Friday, December 4, 2009

Enemy Occupied Territory

What a weird 7 days. Walking from the joys of Thanksgiving on Thursday to the funeral on Friday of a precious godly lady who lived her 81 years with love and honor, then learning of someone else's need for emergency brain surgery. Seeing these who want to live and learning of another who took his own life in another part of the state. Watching Tiger Woods' poor choices revealed and imagining the grief and self-doubt experienced by his beautiful wife. Reading these statistics from Darrin Patrick, pastor of The Journey church:
  • 1500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • 50% of pastors' marriages will end in divorce.
  • 80% of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
  • 50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • 80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first 5 years.
  • 70% percent of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • Almost 40% polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
  • 70% said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons.
  • 80% of pastors' spouses feel their spouse is overworked.
  • 80% of pastors' spouses wish their spouse would choose another profession.
  • The majority of pastor's wives surveyed said that the most destructive event that has occurred in their marriage and family was the day they entered the ministry.
Put all these together and the collision of them confirms 1 Peter 5:8 that I must stay alert. (Watching) out for (my) great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity describes it as living in "enemy-occupied territory."

But, rather than dwelling on these attacks, I must return to last Thursday, when I was thankful for so much about my life. I'm thankful to be the wife of a godly man who was committed to purity before I met him and is committed to it now. I'm thankful for examples of faithfulness (that 81-year-old lady was married 57 years to her life's love), who prove it is possible to live in victory over our enemy. I'm thankful to be in ministry with people who love and affirm the calling of God on my life, not only as a minister's wife and Bible study writer but as a person. I'm thankful that the worst health issues I have are a propensity toward sinus infections and a gimpy knee every now and then.

But I will stay alert, too. Not become comfortable and complacent in my thanksgiving. It doesn't mean I have to live as though the devil is lurking behind every tree, but it does mean I live with the understanding and expectation that in this world, (I) will have trouble (John 16:33). All the while remembering that Jesus has warned us of this so we might have peace, knowing with assurance he has overcome [defeated, overpowered, subjugated, mastered, conquered, vanquished] the world (John 16:32-33). We may be living in enemy-occupied territory, but it still belongs to the Creator. Alleluia.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Christmas Lite

We're doing Christmas lite this year. While the first assumption is that we're spending less, that isn't actually true; we're just spending more wisely. Things we actually need, not a bunch of fluff so there's lots of boxes and bags under the tree. We're also doing Christmas lite in two other ways:

  • We're not doing much decorating since we're trying to sell the house. I don't want or need to unpack all the Christmas ornaments and decorations only to pack them back up again to move them. Although it's a little sad, I'm already looking forward to decorating next year, because I'll have really missed seeing some of the items that are precious and dear for sentimental reasons. (Of course, that assumes we'll have sold the house by Christmas next year. Please, God.) We've got the tree up, the creche, the advent candles, a few decorative pillows, and some garland on the mantel with our stockings, but not much more. My International Santa Claus collection is staying in the attic, along with the snow village and lots of odds and ends. No exterior illumination, just a wreath on the door. Oddly enough, this bare-bones, lite version of decorating is still comforting. It's still "filling" without being "overstuffed." I guess, if anything, it's whet my appetite for more. Exactly where I need to be.
  • Like Darin preached on Sunday, we're also fasting a few things individually to make ourselves spiritually hungry for more. I've never been one to neglect the real "reason for the season," but I do want Christ to reveal more of himself and his purposes in me. What does that mean? What does it look like? I haven't a clue. But keeping the Advent season "lite" is deepening my desire to be filled, not by the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas, but by Christ Himself. Will I receive some great revelation? I don't know. But I just might discover new depths in the love my best Friend and Father has for me. And that's more filling and satisfying than anything in the world.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mulling It Over

Wow. The whole month of November flew by without a single post. I'd make excuses about the holidays and being out of town (which I was for @ a week), but the reality is I've been trying to gather my thoughts into a cohesive whole. I'm still not there, yet, (nor am I likely to ever be!) but with large portions of my Christmas shopping now done, I'm beginning to see daylight glimmer in the recesses of my mind.

Along with the personal thoughts of the meaning of life as I know it, I've also been mulling over a couple passages of scripture:
1 John 2:16 - For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.

Philippians 4:13 - I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
I don't have any great breakthrough theological insights into either, but here's a couple thoughts I thunk. It's widely known that women deal more in feelings and emotions, and men are controlled strongly by their sight. I think it's interesting John includes worldly things which affect both genders in his verse. Women are definitely affected by our flesh, what we feel to be true. By the same token, men's decisions are frequently controlled by what they see to be reality. The fact is, illusions are all around us - male or female - and our fleshly desires or visions may be leading us away from the Father. Then, of course, all humanity struggles with the "boastful pride of life." I'm not saying women are never led astray by their eyes and men don't submit to their feelings, it's just a general observation about our general temptations.

I read through all of Paul's letter to the Philippians recently and was struck by how we sometimes cheapen 4:13. Certainly this verse is applicable in all circumstances in which we need strength or courage, but look again at the circumstances in which he finds himself strengthened by God: with humble means, hungry, suffering need (v.12). Yet in those desperate straits, Paul has learned contentment and has found the strength for sheer survival in Christ. He's not talking about strength to put up with a slow line in the grocery store; he's talking about not having money to even go to the grocery store. He's not talking about strength to endure 10 minutes worth of commercials during his favorite show; he's talking about not even having a place to sleep at night. Paul had perspective I hope to one day obtain and emulate. He knew what mattered. He knew truth and reality. He knew Christ.

Philippians 3:10 - I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Is That Really What You Meant?

I just saw an online Halloween ad for Busch Gardens. It read, "Evil never goes out of fashion."

Wow. I realize I'm prone to queasiness, and Halloween isn't one of my favorite "holidays," but is that really what they meant?

Their ad campaign, when I visited the website, revealed a video of models walking down the catwalk in strange attire who suddenly transform into vampire-like creatures, leaping into the audience, attacking and biting the necks of observers. While creepy, I can endure it. It's the idea that evil is something to be desired that is disturbing to me. lists the following definitions for the noun form of the word evil:
the force in nature that governs and gives rise to wickedness and sin.
-- the wicked or immoral part of someone or something
-- harm; mischief; misfortune: to wish one evil.
-- anything causing injury or harm.
-- a harmful aspect, effect, or consequence: the evils of alcohol.
-- a disease, as king's evil.

Now, see the definitions given for fashion:
a prevailing custom or style of dress, etiquette, socializing, etc.
conventional usage in dress, manners, etc., esp. of polite society, or conformity to it.
manner; way; mode: in a warlike fashion.
the make or form of anything.
a kind; sort.

For all the talk of government ideologies of world peace and toleration (which can't be achieved without Christ, but that's a subject for another day), what this ad states is that humanity doesn't desire those things; rather, what captures our hopes and attention is evil. In spite of all the negative adjectives associated with the definition of evil, what is to be emulated or conformed to in our culture, society and planet is anything harmful.

I know the ad execs were trying to be clever, but is that really what they meant?

The LORD of hosts will be exalted in judgment, and the holy God will show Himself holy in righteousness. . . .Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and clever in their own sight! (Isaiah 5:16, 20, 21.)

God, help me to desire and celebrate good; to think on things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, excellent and praise-worthy.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Proverb for Today
Some days make life change, and some lives make change daily. I think I'm somewhere in the middle today.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Big Brother

Jesus' parable about the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 beautifully describes the character of God as forgiving and receptive to those who chose to dishonor him with their lives and then recognize the error of their ways. It also seems to paint a picture of the Pharisees as a bitter, jealous, exacting big brother. While I do believe Jesus meant to reflect the attitudes of the Pharisees in the character of the older brother, I think there's room for grace, too.

Jesus says the older son was in the fields working (vs. 25) when the younger brother returned and the party began. He was where he should be, doing what he should. That's commendable, and the father later recognizes that. Then, after a hard day of labor, the older son arrives at the house and finds a party going on (vs. 25 still). If it were me, I'd certainly have felt unloved and forgotten: "They didn't even remember to come invite me to a party at my own home?" And he had to find out from a servant, not a family member (vs. 26,27).

No wonder he was angry and didn't want to share in the festivities. But, here's where I think he made his first mistake. When his father came out to him, leaving behind the party for a personal interview and connection with him, the older son defended his faithful service and loyalty while comparing himself to his foolish younger brother (vs. 29-30). Neither the Pharisees nor we should judge or evaluate someone else's relationship with God. Only God holds the measuring tape; he doesn't need us to point out the mistakes of others, as though he might overlook them were it not for our powers of observation. And there the big brother made his second mistake. It wasn't the younger brother's behavior being celebrated. It was his life, his mere existence and safety. The father says "this son of mine/your brother was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found" (vs. 24 and 32).

I think too often we get in our minds that God is unfair when good things happen to bad people (and vice versa, but that's for another day). But the father in the story never condones or approves of his younger son's behavior. It's the life he celebrates. It's the repentance he rejoices over. This story doesn't necessarily indicate the younger son will be reestablished with all the rights and privileges he had before; he may have to live with consequences. In fact, the father tells the older son "everything I have is yours" (vs. 31). But that's not for the brothers to decide; it's at the discretion of the giver, the father.

And here's where Jesus' grace is reflected most clearly, I think: there's no ending to the story. We don't know if the older brother joined the party. Jesus left room for the Pharisees to participate; he didn't assume they'd run away in (perceived) self-righteousness. After the father's explanation and affirmation of relationship (vs. 31), Jesus leaves a cliffhanger for us to decide: Did the older brother accept the father's reasoning or did he turn and walk away? Will the Pharisees imagine themselves joining in the celebration? Will I?

Father, help me to see the value of all people, including myself, not for what they do or don't do, but for the image in which they were created--Yours.

Friday, September 25, 2009

I Think It's True, Anyway.

Anonymous praise is philanthropic;
Anonymous criticism is cowardice.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What A Little Bird Told Me

Sometimes the lessons you're learning are difficult to see in the midst of the circumstances you're living, but this one, I got. I've read about it in books, seen it on television, even talked to people who've had the experience, but today I felt it firsthand.

I've been commissioned to write two more BaptistWay Sunday School lessons for publication next Summer. One of the lessons is on forgiveness, the other on hospitality. I had no idea while sitting at my kitchen table I'd get to practice the compassion of Christ so personally.

Just before 3 pm, I was intently engrossed, typing away when a sudden "bang!" hit the window beside me. My heart skipped a beat, and my hands froze; I was a little afraid to look. Peeking over, a beautiful cardinal lay floundering on our porch, desperately trying to gather his footing. Tiny feathers remained stuck to the window where he'd flown at full-speed, ramming himself into the glass. He was clearly shaken, and my poor heart broke. I began to pray, asking God to help the poor creature. It was so obvious he was terrified and stunned. Exerting every ounce of energy, he tried to fly away, but flapping his wings furiously, he still could not get off the ground.

Then I looked back at the passage of Scripture that lay before me: "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me'" (Matthew 25:40). (I know Jesus wasn't a bird - just hang with me!)

"OK, Lord," I thought, "I'll do what I can, but that bird will be so afraid. He won't know that he can trust me. He might even try to run away or bite me in defense." Stepping outside, I slowly approached the bird, reached down and picked up the delicate creature. His eyes were wide with terror, and he practically trembled in my palm. I gently stroked his soft back, whispered assurances, and walked across the porch to gather some birdseed for him as a token of friendship and compassion. He wouldn't move. He couldn't move.

I carried him to our propane tank in the back yard, set him down with the seed, and turned to walk away, praying that God would either give me wisdom to know how to help, or heal him so he might once again fly. Since it was now 3 pm, I had to leave the defenseless creature for a few minutes while I went to get Lil' D from school. He was high enough our community cats wouldn't notice him immediately and might not be able to get to him without slipping.

When we returned from school, I invited Lil' D to come out with me to see the bird and pray with me God would heal it. As we cautiously walked toward the propane tank, we watched as a flock of various birds scattered from the tree in the backyard. Still our little cardinal sat helplessly perched. When I got within two feet of him and stretched out my hand, he suddenly lifted up and flew away! A prayer answered.

Then I realized, with tears in my eyes, that's what it's like with God and me. Each time I ram my head against the struggles of life, he steps out to meet me, slowly approaches me in my pain, reaches down and picks up my delicate heart. My eyes are wide with terror, and I practically tremble in his hand. He strokes me, whispers assurances, and walks across time and space to offer his friendship and compassion. And yet after all he's done, I'm still afraid. I still doubt that he can be trusted. Sometimes, broken as I am, I even try to fly away or bite back in defense. How foolish I am.

And since I've been shown such compassion and grace, how can I even think of withholding mercy and hospitality to others who have needs and ache, too? Matthew 6:26 says, "Look at the birds of the air... Are you [and others] not worth much more than they?" I think, I hope that I will forever read this passage differently, and remember what a little bird told me.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Personal Politician

It's pretty rare that I'll address anything political on my blog, but this time, it's personal. Real personal.

Best Man in our wedding, and Darin's dear friend for 20 years, James Lankford is running for Congress. I can't vote for him because I don't live in Oklahoma, but I'm proud to spread the word about him! Here's a couple of links about him on Blogspot and Facebook for those of you who are interested.

(Is it too early to go shopping for a dress to wear to his inauguration?!)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Fact or Fiction?

As most folks know, I love a good mystery. Always have. Even as a 4th grader, I was fascinated with stories that held suspense. That's the first time I remember learning about the Loch Ness Monster and the Bermuda Triangle. (Although I was in high school before I realized the Monster was not located in the Bermuda Triangle, but my 10th grade Geography teacher straightened that out.)

I guess that's why I found this tidbit from Christian History so interesting:
August 22, 565
Celtic missionary and abbot Columba reportedly confronts the Loch Ness Monster and becomes the first recorded observer of the creature. "At the voice of the saint, the monster was terrified," wrote his biographer, "and fled more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes."
Science has worked to prove or disprove the existence of the Loch Ness creature, using sonars and satellites to resound a distorted signal due to the air in "Nessie's" lungs.

Honestly, I don't really care whether it's true or not. I've heard theories proposing "Leviathan" in Job 3 & 41, Psalm 74 & 104 and Isaiah 27 are everything from crocodiles and alligators to the Loch Ness Monster.

However, I do find it interesting a saint is the first recorded observer. Hmmm.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

At War with the Spiders

Funny things, spider's webs. Small kingdoms in dark corners. Nearly invisible for a time, you usually can't even see them until they've captured a prey, stuck to the silky threads, seemingly defying gravity as it dangles in space. There's not much proactive hunting that goes on in the life of a spider that way. It's more of a "wait for it to come to me" mentality. Yet, the whole time it waits, it's working. Spinning. Building its kingdom strand by strand.

But it's not a strong kingdom. It will fail with a strong burst of wind or the intrusion of a larger object.

Lately, in my house, the spiders have been winning. With all the hot weather, and while we were out of town, several arachnids moved in and set up shop. I keep finding them under cabinets, tangled in light fixtures, tucked in tiny places even my vacuum can't reach.

I can't help but think I let that happen in my own life, sometimes. While I'm checked out doing life, focusing on my other "rat-killing" as my Dad calls it, the spiders creep in, and in the dark places of my mind and heart, begin to catch joy and distort it. They take areas of my discontent and turn them into jealousy. They catch my struggle with a relationship, and that struggle remains stuck in limbo, neither healing nor breaking. Instead, it is simply consumed and thereby destroyed.

It's in those moments, when the spiders are winning, I must cry out to the One who can clean out those dark corners with the light of his Truth; the power of his hand, wiping away the fragile cobwebs of Satan's lies. It might take a while for it all to get cleaned up, but it will be well worth the result.

But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us... 1 John 1:7

Monday, August 17, 2009


I seem to have a lot a of bookends in my life. Moments that define the beginning of one segment of my journey and the end of another. Yesterday was one of those moments. It was awkward. I actually wanted to throw up a couple of times. It wasn't that I didn't want the bookend, I just wanted to get it over with. Emotions were fragile and very close to the surface. It was our last day of worship with FBC Frankston.

I did great until friends from the congregation came to lay hands and pray over Darin, Lil' D and me. It was a beautiful, touching, face-to-face reminder of the lives God has blessed me to know. Some of those faces have crawled on the ground beside me weeding flower beds; others have wept with me in prayer. Some have sung with me in worship to our Savior, or winked in glee over a game of dominoes. Some have had loving, welcoming smiles to dissipate the sorrow of a frustrating day. Those faces have purpose and meaning for me. They may not know until Heaven the tremendous depths of my soul they touched.

When I remember Frankston, I will remember that moment of prayer, looking up to see the faces of people who showed their love by committing my future to our eternal Father. Loving me and God enough to let me go be obedient somewhere else.

Now for the first chapter in the next book...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Mission Trip Catch-Up

I'm finally taking time to post some pictures from our mission trip to Galveston. Truthfully, I'd rather be in bed than posting these pictures, but since I can't sleep at this 6:30 hour on Saturday morning, I'm finding a way to at least be semi-productive. (Nobody should be doing something as necessary as laundry at this time of day.)

These first two pix were taken on Monday of our trip. We painted Hazel's house. (That's "Daffodil" if you'd like the name of the paint color.) We also painted a bathroom and cleaned some on the inside, buying her a few decorative and food items. I had a classic Three Stooges type-moment when someone warned me the handrail was wet as I prepared to descend the front steps. Two seconds later, when I needed to run back inside the house and grab something, I put my hand right on the rail's wet paint. Short-term memory loss. Oh, and do not try this at home: It's important to note in the second photo Zak is seated on the bottom of the ladder on which I am standing. This is significant because the ladder is on the inclined ramp. Without his weight counter-balancing my own, I'd have been head first on top of Duane there.

The coordinators of the rebuilding effort expected the painting to take us two days, but we were so speedy, they had to hunt around for a couple of hours on Tuesday morning to find us another project:

What you're seeing here are the before and after photos. We weeded a frog pond and butterfly garden at a local elementary school. It was untouched since the hurricane. Yes, the water still looks green, but at least you can now differentiate it from the grass! I think we counted 9 bags of weeds and trash from this 25' x 25' area!

On Wednesday morning, we worked in a warehouse helping the workers organize boxes and crates of donated furniture and other goods. Most of the items were given by The Today Show, including this tractor which Al Roker rode!

Finally, on Thursday, we joined the balance of our group at a house being insulated and sheet-rocked (not sure what the past tense of that activity actually is). Mostly, I cleaned the yard, swept the interior and tried to stay out of the way!

Then in the afternoon, we visited the beach:

We fed seagulls, buried Josh and splashed in the waves. Fabulous!

As you can see, God used us to make several small, but significant differences in the lives of the people we helped. We worked hard, sweated profusely and loved every minute of it!
Oh, and here's what we did for the balance of our time:

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Words of Life and Power

"If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don't write, because our culture has no use for it. -Anais Nin (French writer)
I've liked this quote for sometime, now. It also explains why I haven't had a lot to say, lately. While it is true: "writers write," I don't think every thought which comes to my head should be inflicted upon the public at large!

I've done a great deal of talking to God (and some listening, too), through my experiences at youth camp as an adult sponsor, where I was blessed to lead our student's quiet time, as well as on the Galveston Mission Trip for which I had the distinct privilege of writing the daily quiet time devotionals for our group. Both of these opportunities fueled and exercised my passion for helping people spend time in the Word of God.

Maybe that's why the quote up top resonates with my heart. Hebrews 4:12 says,"The word of God is alive and powerful." Only something alive can breathe, cry out or sing, and Scripture does all of these when exposed to a heart and mind that are open to its influence. And certainly our culture has need for all that the Word breathes, all that it cries out to us and sings to our hurting or joyful hearts.

Sometimes I catch myself reading more words about the Bible than the words of the Bible itself. And that's where I miss out on its life-giving attributes. God can use all the words of other writers to enhance my understanding of Scripture, but they don't contain nearly the same power as his words do. Paul tells us the Word is our weapon against Satan and his schemes (Ephesians 6:11,17). By leaning on the words of mortal men and women, I'm merely using a "frog sticker" (as my father-in-law calls his pocket knife) instead of a double-edged sword.

Lest I be guilty of causing you to miss His words for my own, I leave these passages from Psalm 119:89-96 to bless and empower you:

Your eternal word, O Lord, stands firm in heaven. Your faithfulness extends to every generation, as enduring as the earth you created. Your regulations remain true to this day, for everything serves your plans. If your instructions hadn’t sustained me with joy, I would have died in my misery. I will never forget your commandments, for by them you give me life. I am yours; rescue me! For I have worked hard at obeying your commandments. Though the wicked hide along the way to kill me, I will quietly keep my mind on your laws. Even perfection has its limits, but your commands have no limit.

Monday, July 27, 2009

What's For Supper?

I love to cook. I just wish someone else would pick out the menu.

What do you make with 6 cans of tuna, a pound of beef and some frozen ears of corn?

Please don't offer suggestions, I don't think my stomach could take it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Rats and Sinking Ships

"Like rats leaving a sinking ship." While I certainly never want to bear the label "rat," I've never quite understood why this is intended to be negative or bad simile. Whether it's merely legend or there are scientific evidences to prove that rats really do get off a ship before it will go down into the depths of the sea, I don't really care. Apparently this phenomenon has been observed in the past, and if God gave some innate foreknowledge to these rodents to recognize when to get out of a troubled situation, I've got to say I'm impressed.

Too often, in the Church at large, I think we make plans of our own and then ask God to bless them, rather than first asking Him what he wants us to do so that we and others might be blessed and he'll be honored. I know I've been guilty of that behavior when planning events or even preparing a Bible study. I start at the wrong end.

"God, this is what we're going to do (or study about). Please make it all work out great. Thanks."

I've been under the leadership of others that I thought I saw and/or felt the same thing, too. I looked around and saw trouble, disharmony and confusion, causing me to wonder if God had even been consulted about the idea.

Instead, I believe God's saying, "You know, what you're doing is nice, but what I really wanted was _____. It would have saved you a lot of headache and I'd have been much more pleased and glorified."

So for all those human-inspired plans, for all those self-directed ideas, I hope I will be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and intuitive enough to always be a "rat!"

Monday, July 6, 2009


No one else so completely sold himself to what was evil in the Lord’s sight as Ahab did under the influence of his wife Jezebel. 1 Kings 21:25
I know I've read this sentence before, probably many times, but as I read it today, it was as though I'd never seen it. What horrible legacies - for Ahab and Jezebel.

Ahab, according to this verse, was more completely "sold out" to evil than any other person in history. That means he even beats Hitler for the title of "Most Insane Madman of All Time". Wow. I generally put Adolf at the bottom of the barrel, if you know what I mean. First Kings 16:25 says Omri, Ahab's father, "did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, even more than any of the kings before him." Five verses later in 1 Kings 16:30, Ahab has out-done his dad: "But Ahab son of Omri did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, even more than any of the kings before him." However, none of the succeeding kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel are recorded by Scripture as being worse than Ahab. In fact, although none of them led Israel back to God, a few are remembered in this way:"He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, but not to the same extent as the kings of Israel who ruled before him" (2 Kings 17:2).

Ahab's legacy - the guy who was committed to evil more than everyone or anyone else.

And then there's Jezebel. I always think of her as the only person Ahab had in his life, and thus, because of loneliness, he was easily influenced by her (besides Elijah, whose job was to tell him how wrong he was). But I read today he had seventy sons (2 Kings 10:1). Clearly, he had some other "relationships" that could have had an impact on his character. Yet, it was her influence to which he submitted. I can't begin to imagine what an overpowering personality she must have had, how domineering and demanding she was. Yet, there's a creepy sense of twisted loyalty to him that must have maintained his attraction to her. Case in point: when Ahab wants a piece of property, she arranges for the owner to be falsely accused and murdered so her husband can take possession of the land. How touching. And I thought I wanted pearls for our wedding anniversary.

For 22 years these two reigned with terror, duplicity and wickedness. It begs the question: "Why would God allow them to be on the throne for so long?" I think the answer is two-fold. First, God sent Elijah and other prophets to redirect Ahab and the kingdom back to himself, but their efforts were declined. Second, while we might want to blame Ahab and Jezebel for all the "bad," they were merely the leaders. The nation chose to follow them. And a nation indulgent in its life of sin will at some point endure the consequences of its behavior. Just as God set the law of gravity in motion, the law of consequences must result, too. True, the same God who set out those laws can supercede them at any time, but it doesn't mean he will or should.

Much has been written about the US's moral decline since the 1950s and Rock n' Roll. The 60s and the introduction of the drug culture, the 70s and the dissolution of the family, the 80s and the advent of parachute pants (Hey, I'm a child of the 80s; they were a great time except for the hair), the 90s and the decay of tradition.... But the truth is we live in a fallen world that has been this way for a long time. Prostitution existed even before Jesus was born. Murder has an ancient history (see Cain and Abel). Abandonment and abuse of family are not new phenomenon.

So while I'd love to see our nation revive to believe and live out the motto of "One Nation Under God," the fact is our Judeo-Christian foundations are rotting away. Not because of one person or party in office, but because sinful humanity exists, corrupting and dismantling the principles of truth and holiness.

So where does that leave us?

I can't "fix" the government, the state, the county, the city, or even my street. But I can fix things at my address and within my heart. When I read about Ahab and Jezebel I can't help but wonder what would be said about me if the pages of Scripture were still being written. I hope it would say: "No one else so completely sold herself to what was right in the Lord’s sight as Julie did under the influence of the Holy Spirit" 1 Ideals 1:1.

God, make that my legacy.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


I really need to do more writing. I've had a collection of thoughts floating around in my brain for half a month, and now they're a discombobulated mess. (I've been looking all week for a chance to use the word discombobulated.) When I get stuck in the hustle and bustle of life and can't find order in my chaos, I find I frequently forget to use and enjoy the outlets God has given me, even hard-wired into me - namely music and writing.

It's like a runner who has forgotten the pleasure of running because he's too concerned about the condition of the track, his shoes and the weather. I've been focusing on the externals and neglecting the outlets for dealing with those externals.

I read a statement this morning in one of those "forward to 10 friends" emails (no, I did not send it on), that actually stuck with me: "I asked God for all things that I might enjoy life. God said, "No, I will give you life, so you may enjoy all things." I don't know that there's a specific biblical reference for this concept, but I think it's realistic enough to be something God might have said. He is the "giver of every good and perfect gift," and Jesus came that we "might have life, and have it abundantly."

In the midst of "doing" life, I sometimes forget about living it. And I really think that looks a little different for everyone, but for me, anyway, it means experiencing his calling and pleasure in doing the things he's ordained and/or gifted me to do. Eric Liddell, of Chariots of Fire fame, told his sister, "when I run I feel His pleasure." When I write, or sing and play the piano, I have that same sensation, and the world comes into clearer focus, too. The problems are pigeon-holed, the uncertainties calmed, and God's size and ability are correctly seen in perspective.

So, thanks for being a part of my outlet, today. I hope you'll enjoy his pleasure sometime today, too.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Misery and Miracles

"Nothing almost sees miracles but misery," C.S. Lewis wrote.

Jesus healed the blind, removed demons from those possessed, cleansed lepers and calmed storms. But in order for those miracles to occur, someone had to live in darkness, uncontrollable misery, extreme loneliness and in real and present fear of danger and death.

I recently finished reading The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom's account of life as a Jewish sympathizer and protector in the 1930s and 40s Nazi-occupied Holland. For her sympathetic actions, she and several family members were incarcerated at Nazi prisons and ultimately concentration camps.

I love Corrie's reality-laden take on those experiences. She doesn't sugar-coat them with "and God made it so much better." She gets honest about how awful things really were; how she felt hate for the enemies, despised the conditions, and was nauseated at the sights and smells. At the same time, a quiet, still faith flowed within her in the midst of those circumstances. And in that misery, because of faith in a loving, powerful God, miracles occurred.

Some of the miracles she never actually requested or articulated. A bottle of vitamin water for her sister--and shared with countless other women--which never ran empty until the day new vitamins became available through another source. Merciful police officers and lieutenants who arranged secret meetings for she and other family members. The presence of lice among prisoners which kept away German soldiers, allowing the inmates to hold prayer and worship services. Genuine, yet inexplicable fits of coughing which kept soldiers from frisking them and discovering the hidden copies of the Bible hanging around their necks. "Accidental" papers of her release signed and authenticated, when in fact, every woman in her age group was murdered in the following weeks.

Miracles, no doubt. But from depths of pain and misery few people ever know. As we suffer and grieve this side of eternity, we often ask God for his handiwork to prove powerful. We beg for miracles. But the truth is we naturally shirk from the pain and agony of life. I wonder how often I've prevented a God-sized miracle in my own life, by manipulating my circumstances away from what I perceive to be a greater pain, settling for my own version of a man-made "miracle" (the simple fact I avoided what I thought I wanted to get out of).

Salvation by grace through faith is probably considered the greatest miracle of all time. That a sinless man would offer all of himself to the point of death, for a humanity who would daily mock his pain in countless ways is unfathomable. That we'd be given the opportunity to establish relationship with him and a perfect God is equally incredible. From the depths of our sinful misery, a miracle.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Remember the Spirit

For me, there's a fine line between wisdom and cynicism. Wisdom says, "If I walk under that tree, a bird might relieve itself on me." Cynicism says, "The bird will." (Kind of a Murphy's Law way-of-life.)

I've struggled between the two lately. I've often waivered dangerously close to pessimism, preferring to call myself a realist. But when the well is as dry as it's been for me spiritually over the last couple of months, I find myself less realistic and more un-optimistic.

I can't really put my finger on when or why this drought started. Definitely after Easter. Maybe that's the way the disciples felt. The glory and thrill of Christ's Resurrection was followed by the cold reality of living without his daily presence. Jesus knew how desperately they (and we) would need the Spirit. He said, "the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you" (John 14:26).

My problem is failing to remember he's even there -- which is an indictment on myself. Paul was writing to the Galatians and to me when he said: "Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it?" (3:2-4).

Unfortunately, in my life and practice, too often the Spirit is waiting for me to surrender to him, let him take my thoughts and make them practical, Christ-like actions. Instead, I'm trying to muster up "holiness" in my own efforts. How vain, how foolish.

I think it's interesting that Jesus' next statement after assuring us of the presence of the Spirit, is, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful."

I doubt Jesus' statements were coincidental in arrangement. Probably if I'd remember have the option of consulting the Spirit and let him have control of my thoughts about and reactions to life, then maybe the line between wisdom and cynicsm wouldn't be so fine for me and peace would be much less elusive. And even if the bird in the tree relieves itself on me, I'll receive it with laughter and chalk one up for the bird (and immediately go shower).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Aside from the obvious, boys are so different than girls. Darin teases me about the "rules" of women's relationships, but I think males have their own standards, too. Particularly in matters of etiquette.

Case in point: Out on the ball field, a boy on Little D's team belched an obscenely lengthy and disgusting burp and quickly apologized.

“Excuse me,” he said.

A teammate immediately replied, “There ain’t no girls out here; you don’t have to say that.”


Pondering a Why

God has a thing about humility. More than 90 references throughout Scripture mention it. Whether it's an admonishment for us to be humble, or the plight of individuals who choose pride, it's clear he "saves" and "hears the desires" of the humble (Job 22:29; Psalm 10:17). He leads, teaches and gives them grace (Psalm 25:9; James 4:6).

None of that really surprises me; it's only logical a humble person should be more appealing. We are certainly more likely to offer aid to or desire to be around people who aren't insistent upon having their way. And it's certainly easier to teach someone who's actually willing to be taught.

But Proverbs 11:2 has me a little stumped. It reads: "When pride comes, then comes dishonor, but with the humble is wisdom" (NASB) or "Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom" (NLT).

The first part, I get. I can't count the number of times I've spoken with great assurance that something "will" be, only to have it blow up in my face, or never even materialize. In those times, I felt deeply "dishonored," or "disgraced." (I've come to realize that's part of the process of maturity. Adding "maybe" or "perhaps" to statements you're not sure about or can't control helps minimize the number of egg-on-the-face moments!) But what about the second part of the verse? "Why," I ponder, "does humility bring about wisdom?"

Humility comes from the root word humilis which means "lowly, insignificant, on the ground." As in humus: the dark organic material in soils, produced by the decomposition of vegetable or animal matter and essential to the fertility of the earth. Not a pleasant thought at first; but did you catch that last part? "Essential to the fertility of the earth." In other words, when the natural part of something (or someone) is brought or broken down, a rich environment for growth is created. Wow, that speaks volumes, not the least of which is that fertile soil is for those who follow me, not for myself.

I've always understood wisdom to be distinct from knowledge in that it's knowing when and in what manner to do something, not just the mechanics of an activity. This seems to be on par with the roots of the word wisdom which include: "wits" or "to see," or "to know" (as in a vision).

So, back to my original question: "Why does humility bring about wisdom?" Since humility is deference to another and wisdom is a broader vision, I've come up with three possible theories:
1. Humility brings a deeper knowledge and understanding of human nature, thus enabling the humble to know what to expect from people--their behaviors, reactions and emotions, whether good or bad--because the humble genuinely listen and observe with open hearts and minds, and therefore know how to respond in times of crisis.
2. Humility brings a vision toward the future that's bigger than oneself or one's cluster of friends. Humble people expect their lives to be broken and spent for the sake of the Kingdom, so they choose to say "no" to the temptations to assuage their desire for the comfortable and familiar. In doing so, they recognize they're only saying, "later" to their desires, not "never."
3. Humility recognizes one's own inabilities, frailties and incompetences, and in wisdom allows God and others to help and aid when needed. The humble realize they don't have it all together, their lives aren't perfect and being "strong" is a facade. They show their wisdom, then, by admitting their inadequacies and weaknesses and allowing others to "invade" their lives with compassionate love, further strengthening the testimony of the believers and the bond of discipleship.
What I love is the fact this Proverb is an illustration of how practical and realistic the Word of God really is. It applies to real life and real people. It's not just a book of theory and conjecture. God really does want us to know how to function effectively in the world he created. I know I need all the help I can get.

Trust in the LORD and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He will do it. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your judgment as the noonday. Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him; the humble will inherit the land, and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity (Psalm 37:3-7, 11).

If you have any thoughts or examples of why humility brings wisdom, please comment.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What Does That Mean?

I just finished mixing up some lemonade from a powder mix. As I placed the lid back on the plastic container, some surprising words caught my attention: "Contains no fruit juice."'s lemonade...emphasis on lemon (i.e. fruit). Isn't it? I even checked Wikipedia. A lemon is definitely a fruit. So what's in lemonade mix if not lemon?

Regrettably, I decided to read further: "Naturally flavored with other natural flavor."


That's like using a word in its own definition. Something my teachers forbade throughout my educational career. Somehow, food production companies can speak "Twisted-ese" and get away with it. The only step left was to examine the nutrition facts to try to satiate my curiosity.

The ingredients are as follows:
Sugar (surprise!)
Fructose (isn't that sugar, too?)
Citric acid (oh, there's the "lemon")
Natural flavors (yes, that's really what it says) . . . and
Artificial color (to disguise the ugliness of the natural flavors, I suppose).

There are actually a few more, but I'd misspell them if I tried; and since I was proud to simply pass chemistry my senior year, I won't pretend to comprehend their meaning.

Needless to say, I still don't know what's in my lemonade, but..."Bottoms Up!"

Thursday, May 7, 2009


He's gone home. The man I eulogized in song only last year at his 90th birthday will soon be eulogized at a funeral service. Death took its hold, but even still, victory is clear. My Grandpa, age 91, now stands with his Lord and Faithful Friend, his precious wife, and countless others he led to saving faith in Christ. And he no longer knows weakness, pain or weariness. He's now experiencing the greatest peace and joy known to creation, and that's incredibly comforting.

All my life, he preached and sang of God's holiness and mercy. Now, he knows it up close and personally. And I fully believe he's singing at the top of his lungs--'cause he didn't whisper when he worshiped! He wasn't quiet about the love he had for his Savior.

Nor was he quiet about the love he had for his family. He expressed it in so many ways: playing board games, sharing home-grown tomatoes, waking at the crack of dawn to make doughnuts for the whole clan, driving countless miles to visit our homes, praying with us and for us.

I have a couple memories that will stand out forever in my mind. At one family get-together, when they lived in White Oak, Grandpa and Grandma agreed to switch bedrooms with (his son) my Uncle Dale and Aunt Dot. My Grandparents would sleep in the guest room and my Aunt and Uncle would sleep in the bigger Master bedroom. Now, my family plays board games late into the night when we get together, and this evening was no exception. Long after Grandma and Aunt Dot had gone to bed, Grandpa, Uncle Dale and several others continued to play ("Risk," I think the game was.) When Grandpa lost all his countries, he decided to turn in and let the others continue. (Apparently, Uncle Dale was controlling the eastern hemisphere and closing in on world-domination.) Grandpa headed for the guest bedroom, and getting in, he rolled over to say goodnight to...Aunt Dot. Unbeknownst to my Grandpa and Uncle Dale, the ladies changed their minds and went back to the original plan - Grandparents in the Master, Aunt and Uncle in the guest room. Grandpa jumped out of bed and ran screaming down the hall trying to find Grandma: "Lula!"

One of my other favorite memories is a silent one. My senior year of college, I was honored to be elected Homecoming Queen. The school photographer took pictures of the coronation and gave several to me. I, in turn, sent one to my grandparents. I'll never forget how happy and loved I felt that Christmas when I walked in and saw the picture displayed in the dining room where they sat for every meal and every morning for their devotional/prayer time. In some way I felt a closer connection knowing they "saw" me every day.

Grandma passed away in July of 2000. I'm the only grandchild (of 18) who was blessed to have her at my wedding in May of that year. Grandpa's passing is disappointing, because he never got to meet Little D, but now he's part of that great cloud of witnesses, so I suspect he'll be checking on all of us! And that makes me smile.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Just What I Needed Today

This morning, in my inbox, I found the following devotional thought from Michael Card. Maybe it will speak to you, too.

Struggling in Prayer

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
Mark 1:35

There are different kinds of weariness. Sometimes the cure is to rest and sleep. Often we see Jesus doing just that. He knew when His body needed the refreshment of sleep. But there is another kind of weariness; a weariness of the soul that only prayer can heal. That is the kind of weariness Jesus was fighting on that particular morning.

The Bible tells that He went to a “solitary place”. But the text, literally, speaks of an eremos topos, a wilderness or desert place. Using this word gives us the sense not simply of His being alone, of finding solitude – but of being surrounded by the desolation and danger of the wilderness. Mark’s Gospel tells us that during His temptation in the wilderness Jesus was “with the wild beasts” (1:13 NKJV). The place to which Jesus retreats for prayer is menacing and unsafe. It is a picture of the real world, unveiled. Jesus leaves the warmth of His bed and the companionship of His friends and wanders into the wilderness, seeking in the midst of it the familiarity of His Father. There are two points, it seems that we can make of all this.

First, we should consider the nature of the One who rises so early to spend the morning in prayer. He is the Son of God, who bears the fullness of the image of the Father. He is the One who is always obedient, who always hears and does just what His Father tells Him to do. And yet, many times He found it necessary to spend the entire night in prayer. His relationship with the Father was everything to Jesus. And prayer seems to be the foundation of that relationship. If it was so important for Jesus to spend large blocks of time in prayer, how much more should we be spending that kind of time speaking and, more importantly, listening to the Father. Second, the fact that the wilderness was the place Jesus sought for prayer should tell those of us who seek only comfort and safety that God is best found and heard in the midst of terror and turmoil. We want to flee, to retreat to the sanctuary for prayer. And there is nothing wrong with that. But Jesus shows us there is more to prayer than comfort and security. There is also the wrestling in the wilderness with what sickens us and scares us to death. There is a struggle with God and His will for us that might indeed leave us limping like Jacob after the battle is over. But it is precisely the limp, the woundedness, that we may most need to experience and that the world most needs to see in us.

This morning God is calling us to come to Him in the desert, to meet with Him in the most arid place of our souls. He is asking us to follow and to find His Son there in the middle of the danger and turmoil that we know exists outside our door. He is inviting us to join, with Jesus, in the battle that is prayer. He invites us to take off the gloves, to lean into the fight with all we are. Only then can we stand alongside His Son as He sends us out to speak His Word and do His will.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Our Fickleness; His Faithfulness

I'm afraid of whom I'd have been. I can't honestly imagine I'd have believed he was really the Christ, especially from a distance. I don't know that I'd have been shouting for his crucifixion, but I don't know that I'd have been waving the palm branches earlier in the week, either.

Which makes me kinda pathetic. "Pick a side, quit riding the fence," my mind screams. Yet, as far as any average Joe or Jane of the day knew, the death of Jesus of Nazareth wouldn't affect them personally. Sure, those who'd walked with him and called him "friend" would grieve over his loss, and those who admired his good works and teachings would experience sadness or disappointment. But what about the guy in the crowd who'd been fed by the loaves and fishes? What about the woman whose child Jesus laid his hands on, blessed and prayed over? They'd been affected by something he did, but was it enough to coerce them toward crying out for Jesus' preservation?

We are a fickle creation. Case in point:

Judas. Following Jesus for three years didn't develop a loyalty strong enough to overcome pride, vanity or greed. Yet at the moment of his betrayal, Jesus calls him, "Friend" (Matthew 26:50). Jesus - ever faithful. Was there even a twinge of guilt in Judas' heart at that moment?

Peter. Jesus warned him of three denials. Peter (and the other disciples) insisted they would not deny him. In a matter of hours the other disciples were scattered in fear and Peter, a virtual ambulance chaser, follows the horror from scene to scene, promptly refusing to acknowledge any association with Jesus. We know they all later sensed remorse over their abandonment. Yet, when Jesus is questioned by the high priest about his disciples, Jesus doesn't call names, or drag them into the mix with him (like I probably would have).

I think the assemblers of the Bible did an admirable job, but I don't like the break they placed between the last verse of John 13 and the first verse of John 14. Jesus is still speaking, and the connection between the chapters is too amazing to miss: While his last words to Peter in chapter 13 are "you will deny me three times," his first words in chapter 14 are "do not let your heart be troubled." How phenomenal. Paraphrased, Jesus is saying, "I know you're going to pretend you don't even know me, but don't let this bother you (because it doesn't bother me)." Forever faithful, Jesus doesn't even condemn human fickleness. Instead, he welcomes us, even prepares a place for us.

And that's what Easter did. Prepared the way for our resurrection, our hope, our life with Him for eternity. In spite of our wishy-washy devotion. In spite of our foolish pride and fear. He still calls us "Friend," and trusts us with the greatest responsibility of all history: to let others know how faithful he will be to them.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Thursday Night

Thursday night. The Garden of Gethsemane. You've probably heard the story. Jesus grieves over the pain of the cross, gripes at his disciples for not praying for him and gets arrested. Pretty familiar stuff. But, as I've read again the accounts of Jesus in that Garden, I'm moved, touched, affected by the agony of his struggle.

According to Matthew and Mark, three times he prayed to get out of the suffering he'd endure. He wasn't walking toward the cross naive about the excruciating pain and destitute loneliness he'd experience; he'd spent large portions of time with people with all sorts of maladies, injuries, rejections and sorrows. In one fell swoop he'd absorb not only the physical brunt of human hatred, but the spiritual blow of God's (His Daddy's) wrath. That's a desperate situation in which to voluntarily place yourself. No wonder he sought a way to get out of it. He was fully human, after all.

And yet, three times, he prayed to want the will of the Father. I wonder if it took three times for him to pray to want God’s will, because he needed convincing that was truly what he wanted. Mentally, he knew he wanted the Father’s will. Perhaps emotionally, he wrestled within. He said, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41); maybe he was talking about himself, too, not just the disciples' sleepiness. I've known that struggle. Trying to get my heart in line with my head. Jesus knew the right thing to do was endure the cross. Over and over he did things so "the scriptures might be fulfilled" (John 13:8; 17:12; Luke 4:21, etc.) He knew he had a job to do, a purpose to accomplish. He knew James would later write, "to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin" (4:17). He was sinless. He always chose rightly. He couldn't not do this and still be sinless. But the "want to" of his heart wasn't following the "got to" of his head. So he had to pray to want God's will. I'm glad, because sometimes, my heart truly wants what I want more than what God wants. It's ok to follow Jesus' example of asking God to change my "want to."

What's amazing to me is Luke tells us an angel appeared to "strengthen" him (22:43). It doesn't say the angel "comforted" or "ministered to" him, but "strengthened" him. In other words, the plan isn't changing; get ready. There are times, when doing God's will, that feeling good (secure, alleviated, encouraged) isn't even an option. Instead, with the appearance of the angel "he prayed more fervently," and even still "he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood" (22:44).

This isn't getting any better.

In the meantime, the disciples are conked out. According to John 18:1-2, Jesus often went to Gethsemane with them. That's probably why it wasn't urgent to them to stay awake. They'd likely fallen asleep here before, waiting for Jesus to finish praying. They didn't know this time was different than the others.

He needed their prayers for strength and obedient courage. I wonder if they'd stayed awake praying, if the angel's appearance would have even been necessary? It's incredible. In his moment of greatest angst, fear and dread of the future (he knew exactly what was coming; he knew precisely what trauma he would face), their selfish hearts and bodies succumbed to personal desires, and they slept peacefully. For about an hour, anyway. Then, God allowed Hell to break loose.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


The Wednesday before Easter has an unusual moniker in some Christian expressions of faith. The most traditional is "Holy Wednesday," which acknowledges the holiness of the fulfillment of Scriptures in the life of Christ (see Zechariah 11:12-13). But my favorite label for the day is "Spy Wednesday," indicative of the work of Judas on that day as he conspired with the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus for thirty silver coins.

It seems pretty clear from Matthew 26, Mark 14 and John 12 that what sent Judas over the edge was the anointing of Jesus' feet with costly perfume. Clearly he was standing pretty close to that edge already. Perfume? Feet? Get over it. I love how John tells it like it really is. While all three Gospel writers admit the disciples were miffed the perfume hadn't been sold to help the poor, John tells the REAL truth, Judas "said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and...he used to pilfer what was put into [the money box]" (vs. 7). What's amazing to me is it appears everybody already knew that about his character. There certainly wasn't time for him to have confessed his thievery at any point following the upcoming events. And even knowing the truth about Judas' behaviors, Jesus had still let him be in charge of the group's financial assets! Judas is a biblical Bernie Madoff! (Which shows Jesus isn't afraid of or threatened by any economy or financial investor, so we shouldn't be either. But that's a side note.)

I can just hear Judas' rationale for his theft, "I'm one of the poor. I don't have a steady job or income since I'm following Jesus around all the time. And don't I deserve this for all the times I've preached, healed and removed demons (Luke 9:1-6), distributed and picked up baskets of food (Matthew 14), endured his sermons on humility (Mark 9:35), helped arranged meals (Matthew 26:17-19), stayed with him when he didn't make sense (John 6:66-71), stood by him against the Pharisees (Mark 8:10-11)? Wow, I'm a pretty good guy for doing all this!"

Judas' selfish greed extended much deeper within his soul than just the desire for money. Greed is merely an expression, a symptom, if you will, of a greater and more cancerous illness: pride. And I think that's what sent him over the edge with Jesus. When he saw the love and forgiveness exuding from Jesus to the woman annointing him, Judas' pride couldn't take it. "How dare he show such mercy? How dare he offer such extravagant grace? I can't even stand to be in the presence of such a sinful woman--whose sin is so much greater than my own." If only he'd admitted his own sin at that moment and fallen at Jesus' feet with her, how different the story might have been for him.

Instead, his self-righteous pride grew deeper roots and suffocated any seeds of humility or repentance planted in his soul, so that when the opportunity presented itself, he found the Sanhedrin and offered them his support toward killing Jesus in exchange for money. And he began looking for the chance to betray Jesus. Spy Wednesday, indeed.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I Smiled at An Umbrella

I smiled at an umbrella today. I didn't really mean to.

My heart's desire is to be a friendly person, waving and smiling at my neighbors as I pass by. So when I took my morning constitutional today and saw something resting on my neighbor's carport bench, I smiled a congenial smile and continued on my way. At this point I should probably point out how incredibly near-sighted I am, and how I generally go walking without wearing my contacts or glasses. In truth, I can't see past the end of my elbow.

As I squinted into the distance, it crossed my mind that the mass didn't really look like a person - that's why I chose to merely smile and not wave, too. Nevertheless, I made my way home smugly confident in my friendly behavior.

I felt that way right up to the time I left the house to go to work. Passing by that same carport, this time with contacts installed, I realized the object was not a person, not even an animal; it was an umbrella, leaning against a bench and waving in the wind. I'd proudly smiled at a stinkin' umbrella. I'd chosen to believe my assumptions in my blind, unseeing state, rather than going a little closer (OK, a LOT closer) to investigate the truth. Furthermore, with vanity, I'd celebrated my behavior as worthwhile, even praise-worthy!

How many times a week - a day - do I blindly observe the world around me, smiling at umbrellas and feeling proud of myself for it? How much of what I believe to be truth is my assumed perception? How frequently am I willing to take extra steps to get a little closer, delve a little deeper for the realities of the situations and people whom I encounter? Even more importantly, how dedicated am I to "know[ing] Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death" (Philippians 3:10)?

Maybe if I'd quit smiling at umbrellas, I'd have time for a little more exploration and learning.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Judo We I Lo" Loves "A Wind Door"

My friend Alison recently posted a site on her blog I've thoroughly enjoyed and wanted to share. If you like letters and words, you'll get a kick out of typing in the names of family and friends just to see what comes up.

Here's the deal: Anagrams, rearranging the letters of a word to make another word, may sometimes reveal more about the nature or character of the word than you'd imagine. So, to save you the trouble of pulling out pencil and paper, here's a website that will do it for you. Go ahead, type in your name and see what comes up! Alison was looking to see if any of her results reflected her personality. Since I know nothing about Judo and even less about physics, that didn't work out for me.

My five piddly results were:
Id Joule Ow
Judo Lie Ow
Judo Lei Ow
Judo We Oil
Judo We I Lo

Darin's were much more fun; he had 290. My favorites were:
Android Ow
Radio Down
A Wind Door
A Wind Odor
Dad Wino Or
Dado I Worn

As to whether or not these fit his character, I'll let somebody else decide.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Goodness and the Greatness

Steven Curtis Chapman's 1994 song Still Listening has been rolling through my head off and on for months. In it, he explores prayers such as "God is great; God is good...," and "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep," expressing a desire for a simple childlike faith. "God is great and God is good, and He is love," he sings.

I've always been convinced of the greatness of God. Just look at the intricacies and grandeur of creation. That's power, bigness, wonder, amazing stuff. In a quick review of scripture, I counted no less than 40 references to God's greatness in the Bible. I'm pretty settled on this issue.

And while I'm cognitive of the goodness of God through personal blessings and answered prayers, there's a part of me that struggles to be assured of that goodness because of the "unanswered"/"no" prayers I've seen. Oddly enough, I found only six verses that directly spoke to God's goodness. Is that because he's more great than he is good? Maybe, but I doubt it.

Here's what I found:
"...may your saints rejoice in your goodness" (2 Chronicles 6:41).
"Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart" (Psalm 73:1).
"Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground" (Psalm 143:10).
"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone" (Mark 10:18 and Luke 18:19).
"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness" (2 Peter 1:3).

So what do I do with these few small verses? Do I build a whole theology of the goodness of God around so little? Do I base my belief in his goodness around my experiences alone? Even now, I'm begging God to help me be firmly and finally convinced of the goodness of his character. I know mine isn't perfectly good. I'm human. I have reasons and motivations for my thoughts and behaviors. (Not that he doesn't have purposes behind what he does. He's not a willy-nilly, chaotic God.) It's just that to comprehend perfect goodness without any shade of manipulation or impurity is more than I can even imagine. Jesus said it himself, "No one is good - except God alone."

As much as I want to start by defining "good," has 41 definitions, and that's just for the adjective usage! Furthermore, can I realistically impose human understandings of goodness upon a holy God? I don't think to do so is even reasonable; they're so flawed. Just think about interviews on the news after a murderer is caught. Every neighbor always says, "We're so surprised. He/She was such a good person." By what standard?!? Notice, too, the goodness becomes past tense. In each of the verses above, however, God's goodness is ever present-tense.

Nevertheless, human experiences, understandings and definitions are all I have to go on. I have seen his goodness through blessings and answered prayers. I have to mark them down (because I have a bad memory about such things) and combine them with those six scriptures of truth above. Then, I have to look for evidences of the goodness of God (as they relate to human definitions) in the pages of the Bible.

Since Jesus came to show us God in the flesh, I guess for me, Mark 4:35-41 holds one of the best pictures of the goodness and greatness of God combined. Asleep in the back of a boat, the Disciples wake Jesus, asking him if he cares that they're going to drown. Now, first of all, isn't that a stupid question? Does Jesus care? At this point they've seen him heal all manner of sickness, help the demon-possessed and hang out with tax-collectors. I think he's safely established a compassionate nature! Secondly, what do they expect him to do after they wake him? Apparently not calm the wind and sea, because when he does, they are terrified and ask, "Who is this man...even the wind and waves obey him!" (I'm thinking, if you didn't believe Jesus could fix the problem, why didn't you let the poor guy sleep?! But that's just me.)

Yet here's where we see God's goodness and greatness in tandem. While a great God can control and overpower a storm, only a good God would do so ( definition #12: reliable, dependable, responsible). While a great God can cast out illness and demons, only a good God would (def. #6: kind, beneficent, or friendly). While a great God can meet our needs of shelter, food, and clothing, only a good God would (def. #2: satisfactory in quality, quantity, or degree). While a great God impresses us with power, only a good God deserves our worship (def. #7: honorable or worthy). While a great God amazes us with holiness, only a good God would desire and make a way for intimate personal relationship with imperfect creations (def. #1: morally excellent; virtuous; righteous; pious).

God knew I (and maybe you, too) would struggle to believe in his goodness; that I'd doubt the truth of his good character when things didn't go the way I'd hoped or expected. I guess that's why over and over in his Word he assures us of his love (I counted 97 times). Clearly, I'm never going to understand his perception of goodness, so I'll have take it on faith. Just like I did salvation itself.
I will never understand
How the words of mortal man
Can reach the ears of One so pure
And touch His heart, but they do I'm sure
For God is great, and God is good
And He is love
Lord, Your "divine power has given [me] everything [I] need for life and godliness through [my] knowledge of [Christ] who called [me] by his own glory and goodness" (2 Peter 1:3). Help me to believe this every moment of every day.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Lord is [My?] Peace

Something I read in Judges 6 made me go "hmmm" this morning. An angel of God comes to Gideon (who's hiding while he tries to work) with instructions to lead the Israelites in battle against the Midianites, promising help in the task and complete victory. Wanting to be sure this isn't just a dream or fit of insanity, Gideon asks the angel to stay put while he runs to the house to prepare an offering.

He returns ASAP with a cooked young goat, baked bread and a pot of broth. Presenting them to the angel, he is instructed to place the meat and bread on a rock and pour the broth over them. So Gideon does as he is told. "The the angel of the Lord touched the meat and bread with the tip of the staff in his hand, and fire flamed up from the rock and consumed all he had brought. And the angel of the Lord disappeared" (vs. 21).

Now, at this point, Gideon had the same reaction I would have: he freaked. "Lord, I'm doomed!" he says. Suddenly, God speaks to him (remember, the angel's gone, so where's this voice coming from?) saying, "It's all right. Don't be afraid. You won't die." But, here's where my path and Gideon's diverge. At this point, the place where all this has occurred could be name, "the Lord watched Julie run away really fast." But, Gideon, so struck with calm and assurance, builds an altar there and names it "the Lord is peace."

PEACE??? PEACE??? Let's recap: He's hiding from enemies, met an angel, worked hard on a offering, watched fire come out of a rock and consume his hard work, seen the angel disappear, and heard a voice from out of nowhere talk to him. And he can name the place PEACE???

I can't begin to imagine how soothing the voice of God must have sounded. Whether or not it was audible, we don't know, but it was a million times more consoling than a parent calming an anxious child. God's words must have enveloped him like an embrace around his soul. God's voice encircled him, strangling the fear within and shrouding him with security. Serenity. Tranquility.

And that same voice speaks to me every day. Though inaudible, it speaks. In every struggle, in every miracle, in every moment I am willing to listen. In the midst of consuming fire or after it has passed, I want to confidently say with Gideon, "the Lord is [my] peace." No question marks.

This is the message of Good News--that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all (Acts 10:36).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Journey Toward Easter

I'm really excited about Easter this year. I don't know why this year more than others, but something deep within my spirit yearns for the Resurrection in a way I've never sensed before. It's still more than a month away, and although I'm observing Lent, it's not self-denial that's crying out; I honestly don't know what it is. So, I've decided to take a spiritual journey through several aspects of Christianity and Biblical study to see if I can grasp hold of whatever is within me, toward a greater understanding and passion for Christ.

My love for History is a natural beginning point for me. I've always been drawn to etymological studies and histories of symbols, so I thought I'd investigate some Christian symbols. These aren't comprehensive studies, but enough to satiate my curiosity.

The Fish: One of the most important symbols to early Christians, the fish, with its unblinking eyes reminded Believers of God's ever-watchful guard over them. Jesus told Peter he (and thereby, we) would be "fishers of men." Additionally, it serves as a reminder of Jesus' miracle of the loaves and fishes. He is ever-faithful to provide for those who trust in him.

Ichthus/Icthus: No, this is not my tattoo! But it's not a bad one to have. Closely related to the fish symbol above, you often see them combined. That's because these are the Greek letters which spell the word "fish," pronounced Ichthus. Early Christians used the letters of "Ichthus" to form an acrostic of their confession of faith. І-Jesus, Χ-Christ, Θ-God, Υ-Son, Σ-Savior.

Chi Rho: This is one of my favorites because its history is so rich with excitement! Chi and Rho are the first two letters (ΧΡ) of "Christ" in Greek ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (Christos). The story goes that in 312 AD, Constantine was about to lead his army into battle with his enemy Maxentius near Rome, with the winner becoming emperor of the whole empire. Originally a pagan, Constantine was worried about the coming battle, so he prayed to the "Supreme God" for help. That night in a dream he said he saw Jesus telling him to "conquer by this," using the chi-rho sign "as a safeguard in all battles." Constantine ordered it to be put on his soldier's shields -- and won the battle.

The Anchor: Because of the dangers of being a Christian, early Believers would disguise the symbols of their faith, even on graves. (If you were seen visiting a Christian's tomb, you may presumably be a Christian as well.) The anchor was already seen by the culture of that day as a symbol of hope, stability and security, so when Christians used it, they deepened its message by affirming hope is found in Christ alone. Notice the vertical and horizontal lines create a cross! Now, we too "have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure (Hebrews 6:17)."

Although I looked in other places too, my primary source for this info was from this website. It's the ministry of an evangelical Christian with degrees from Fuller, so I think he's probably trustworthy. Feel free to do your own exploration; I barely scratched the surface!