"Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home." - C. S. Lewis

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Gift

Going to the theater is still very exciting to me.  The anticipation as the previews roll, the huge screen and dark room, the smell of popcorn - it was all there when my brother and I went to see The Giver a couple of weeks ago.  I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed it and spoil the ending for you...but I'll try not to.

In the movie, Jonas comes of age in a synchronized community where all differences, emotions, and idiosyncracies were abolished generations ago.  Only one person, the Giver, has received decades of memories of music, snow, and home - as well as memories of war, pain, and loss.  It is his job to hold these memories and counsel the community elders when situations are beyond their experience.  Now it is also his responsibility to transfer his role - and memories - to Jonas.

So we watch Jonas discover dancing and love - as well as death and euthanasia - and form his conscience along the way.  In one poignant scene (I really am trying not to spoil it), the Giver informs Jonas that a friend of his -  unenlightened to what Jonas has learned - will soon learn how to euthanize babies.  "She wouldn't do it," Jonas insists.  "Not if she understood."

Reminding Jonas of his community's naivete of right and wrong, the Giver argues, "You and I are the only ones who understand."

"Then it's our fault," Jonas retorts.

It's a challenging scene.  It may make some of us want to shout from the rooftops that wrong is wrong, or storm abortion centers with pro-life slogans and graphics.  It may make us want to yell our convictions loud enough that others can't help but notice us.

But is that what we should feel about this scene?

There's More to It
There is no question that Christians are called to declare truth in this world. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus makes our responsibility very clear:

"'You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others'" (Matthew 5:14-16a).

Light never hides from darkness.  It can't; instead it liberates those who live in it, shining into every dark place and exposing darkness for what it is.

Just like the citizens of Jonas' community, the unbelievers among us do not see things the same way we do - they can't.  It used to be that we viewed the world the way they did.  But all that changed when God took our sinful souls (and minds and opinions and convictions) and liberated us into light.

Changing a heart (and mind) is God's work, not ours, so point-by-point arguments are not always our priority.  As Christians we certainly have a responsibility to stand for the truth, but we have never been asked to stop there. 

You see, there's more to the verse.

'"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven'" (Matthew 5:14-16).

Notice that Jesus doesn't ask us to conquer others with our arguments or debilitate them with our logic - though there is certainly a place for well-argued defenses of Biblical truth (1 Peter 3:15).  We are called to shine, yes, but how?

With good works.  That others may see those works and glorify God, not our knowledge or rhetoric.

How Far?
"Then it's our fault," Jonas says, taking our pointing fingers and directing them back toward us.  When people make terrible choices without fully understanding the consequences of their beliefs, we are responsible to shine in that darkness.  Instead of looking down on others because of their decisions, how are we called to treat them?

No spoilage here, but Jonas and the Giver do take action - both to protect the endangered and enlighten the uninformed.  They stand for truth and defend the defenseless - all without belittling those who just can't see things the way they do.  They plead with their community to listen, and ultimately risk everything to open others' eyes to the truth - even when the very citizens they seek to help fight back.

How far would we go - not to destroy those who disagree with us, but to love them?  How much would we risk - time, appearance, public opinion - to humbly open the eyes of those who simply do not see?  What would we sacrifice that they might have what we have been given?

Because it is a gift.

"I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might" (Ephesians 1:16-19).

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

God's Not Bored

We had been over this more times than I could count.  How many times must we repeat ourselves for this pre-k drama queen to understand that the world doesn't revolve around her friends' opinions of her? "I'm afraid other people won't like me," she told me.  I had tried to talk her through this before, consoling her and offering encouragement. This time I had had enough.  "If you don't want to play with your friends, that's your choice," I told her kindly, but firmly.

But a few minutes later, as she still wiped crocodile tears and looked to me for consolation, I tried to talk her through it one more time.  "Does God love you?" I asked, only slightly impatiently, to encourage her to think through this on her own.  "No," she answered.  "I think He gets bored of us."

Even in the Deep Blue Sea
There really is no other way to put it.

Disgusting. It had to be disgusting. There in that great fish for three days and nights with seaweed, saltwater, undigested plankton, and whatever else it ate - the smell alone must have been repulsive.

As easy as it might be to feel sorry for someone in that predicament, Jonah had no one to blame for it but himself.

His own choices, his own decisions, his own disobedience brought him here.  He should stay here - a long time.  Maybe forever, don't you think? God is under no obligation to rescue Jonah from the prison he brought on himself.


Prison Life
Just a few short hours before I found myself counseling my five-year-old friend, I had flipped the pages to my daily Bible reading assignment: Psalm 69.

Just like Jonah, our little drama queen was in a prison she had fashioned for herself. But they were never alone there. "For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners" (Psalm 69:33).

Here I was, with a little girl in a "prison" of fear of man - a prison where I have made my own home far too often.

Time and Time Again
Does He get bored of us?  It would make sense if He did.  Day in, day out, the same mistakes over and over.

Every day I get myself in another mess.  It's my fault, my problem.  What if I have the same problem as Jonah? As our drama queen? As nearly everyone in the history of the human race?  Does He grow weary of rescuing us time and time again from the same predicaments?  Does He get bored of His creation of man?

I would.  But He doesn't.

He does not despise His own people who are prisoners...

Saturday, July 5, 2014

When I'm 94...

“I don’t know when I last went to San Angelo,” my grandmother said quietly as the miles to her hometown melted away beneath us.

It was her oldest sister’s 94th birthday celebration, and my grandmother’s attendance (and ours) would be a surprise.  You may question the wisdom of surprising a 94-year-old, but my hearty great-aunt took it in stride.  After “Do you remember Uncle So-and-so?” and “Now how long has it been since I saw you?”, our rather noisy tribe began our lunch as we continued sharing all that has happened in our lives since who-knows-when.

For over two hours, everyone asked about loved ones unable to attend, elders quizzed youngers about college studies and life plans, and grandmas and great-aunts lavished on little ones the hugs and kisses so caricature of reunions like this.  Some were teary over memories come and gone.  All of us laughed at the siblings’ difficulties in finding their places in an age-order lineup.

Sharing about first cars, my great-grandparents, and growing up in a time that seems so far away, Nana, her brother, and her five living sisters recalled memories that are only stories for me.  For a few circles of the minute hand, we mentally stored away family history, laughed until we ached, and tried to capture on camera the significance of the afternoon.

And then it was over.  We parted ways and traveled back to our daily lives, leaving the old Texas farm stories behind to go on to live the stories God has written for us.

Generation after generation, decade after century, daughter after great-great-great-great-grandmother, life is short.  The times may change, and the scenery will certainly be different.  But my 94-year-old great-aunt was once my age, and maybe someday, Lord willing, I will be hers.  One day it will be the life I am living now that becomes a storied memory of a far-away past.

Even if only for that reminder, it is good to go to San Angelo every now and then.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


They say that play is a child's work.  Whether or not that is always the case, the five-year-old boy was taking his play very seriously.  The goofy antics of his two-year-old brother would not distract him from his mission.

Equipped with the plastic armor from the dress-up closet, the older brother solemnly surveyed his knightly jurisdiction in the basement.  His little brother understood the role play.  "Dragon!" he squealed gleefully and took off running, expecting his brother to follow.

His elder brother didn't move a muscle.  With great seriousness to match his weighty responsibility, he turned to his younger brother.  "No," he said calmly.  "Knights don't run away from dragons."

Provided For
If there is ever any question about whether or not Christians will face difficulty in this world, Paul's conclusion to Ephesians takes care of that.  After reading about "schemes of the devil," "cosmic powers over this present darkness," and "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:11-12), it's no wonder we need armor for this life.

But, just like every other true need we face in this life our Good Shepherd "'knows what you need before you ask him'" (Matthew 6:8).  Undoubtedly, we need armor and, just as assuredly, He provides it.

Imagine a knight in medieval times given his first coat of armor.  It would be strong.  It would perfectly fit his needs in battle.  It would be a gift.

In the same way, as Christians, we are given our own coats of armor, as illustrated in Ephesians 6.  The armor of God is strong.  It is exactly what we need.  It is a free gift.

Our Captain gives us everything we need.  Truth, righteousness, readiness from the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God - all of it is provided for the soldiers of God.

A Scaredy-Knight

Imagine the king visiting that same knight in medieval times and asking how the battle went.  Imagine the king's response if the knight replied that he had never fought in battle...

King: "You haven't fought at all?  You have been a knight for some time now and you still haven't served in battle?  Why not?"

Knight: "To be honest, I don't want to be hurt.  I'm afraid."

King: "But I gave you a coat of armor!  A brand new coat of armor that fits you well and perfectly matches your needs in battle!  Armor is made to be used, friend.  It will protect you as you wage warfare for the kingdom."

A conversation like this probably never happened - I know.  But how often do we hold that knight's excuse in our hearts?

Whatever Comes
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul builds a case for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and our eventual resurrection into eternal life.  Toward the end of the chapter, the climax of his case, he exults: "But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:57).

It's true - the victory is ours!  Eternally won by Jesus' sacrifice, our inheritance is "kept in heaven" for us (1 Peter 1:4) and nothing can ever change that.  We are Christ's.  We are His children, and, if you will, knights in His kingdom equipped with armor He provides.

And armor is made to be used.

After Paul's triumphant statement in 1 Corinthians 15, he finished the chapter with a charge: "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Steadfast.  Immovable.  Always abounding in God's work.  He has given us the victory, so our work will never truly fail.

When we face "schemes of the devil," "cosmic powers over this present darkness," and "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places," there will be times when lies and problems cloud our view of our sure victory.  But we have no need to fear.  No matter how dark, difficult, or dangerous, no matter the risk or the problem or the struggle, we have been given the victory and are equipped to stand in the battle and face whatever comes.

Knights don't run away from dragons.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Six Things I Learned in Pre-K This Year

In December of last year, I began working in the afternoons with five-year-olds at a local daycare.  The school year ended last week, and while some of the children will be sticking around for the summer program, others have moved on and will be attending kindergarten in the fall.  I hope to see several of them again sometime, but even those I will never see again have taught me a lot over the last few months!  Here are a few things I learned from five-year-olds this year:

Every child is different.
Okay, so I already knew this.  Still, it was fascinating to learn some of their different personalities and interests: we had some who were loud and outgoing and others who were quieter but loved one-on-one attention.  One didn't like jellybeans.  Another could talk all day about snakes or underwater animals.  Each one of them brought to school their own way of looking at the world, and I enjoyed a glimpse into their perspectives.

Heroes are influential in a child's life.
One day I quizzed the kids on what they want to be when they grow up.  Most of them listed "veterinarian" or "teacher," but one five-year-old boy insisted on "herpetologist" (and no, I didn't know what that was).  "Like Steve Irwin," he explained.  "He got stung by a sting ray.  I want to be like him."

Frozen songs are catchy.
Have you seen the movie?  Then no explanation is needed.

Sometimes it's the little things...
In the spring we had caterpillars in a plastic box in our classroom.  The kids enjoyed seeing the cocoons, and absolutely thrilling was the day when one of the cocoons started shaking and vibrating.  It was snack time, but all fifteen children jumped out of their seats to watch the former caterpillar leave its temporary housing behind.  As I watched the butterfly adjust to its wings, I had to admit that it was truly fascinating.

What others think about me shouldn't be at the top of my priority list.
This is an interesting one for me - I've always struggled with this, and one of the five-year-olds who was in our class this year thrives on positive attention from others.  Countless times we talked about how to respond when someone didn't like the way she did something (or the song she sang, or the dress she wore, etc.), and how resting in what God thinks of us takes away our worry over what others think.  One day, I was trying to help her understand that even if someone didn't praise her coloring picture, she didn't have to be bothered by that.  She could enjoy what she was doing no matter what the other children thought.  As I was talking with her, I realized how much I needed to hear that, too!  No matter what others think of how well I do something - or anything else - it doesn't have to bother me, either.

The most meaningful gift isn't always the most elaborate.
Whether it was for Christmas, or Valentine's Day, Teacher Appreciation Week, some of the gifts the children (or their parents!) gave us were very generous.  There were flowers, gift cards, and candy - all of which I have truly appreciated.  But the gifts I will treasure the most are those that cost the children nothing but their time.  Coloring pages and cards with childlike handwriting and mistakes, with undecipherable artwork that they had to explain to me ("it's a machine that makes hearts") - those are what I will keep the longest.  It's a reminder, too, when it is my turn to give a gift to someone else: Do I just choose something that seems like a good gift, or do I really put myself - my heart - into it?
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Piano Man

It was a quiet evening in the living room lobby of the assisted living center.  Gilligan’s Island played on the TV, but no one was paying any attention to the rerun.  Two elderly people read quietly in the nearly-deserted lobby.  Another woman left to play Bingo upstairs with her friends.  One couple finished a late dinner and took their ice cream to a loveseat near the readers.  All we heard in the hushed room were the receptionist at the front desk and Gilligan explaining to the Skipper.

Leaving his wife with the ice cream, the elderly man unceremoniously turned off the TV and shuffled over to a piano in the corner of the room.  Gently he began to play.  I had never heard the song before, and I still don’t know what song it was, but it was beautiful.  After listening for awhile and debating with myself, I joined his wife on the couch.

“How long has he played?” I asked her, gesturing toward the piano and the man who sat behind it.  She smiled sweetly at me, but I had to repeat myself a few times before she replied.  “He’s played as long as I’ve known him,” she said, adding that he had led worship in a church for years before he retired.

The residents who had been quietly reading during Gilligan’s escapades began humming along with the piano man’s simple song.  I would have loved to hear him play in church.

The scenery may have changed since he last played in a sanctuary.  His abilities have probably changed, too.  But the man at the piano still served his God with song – even if it was in a small assisted living center with hardly anyone to hear him.

After talking some with his wife, I glanced over at the piano again.  He was still playing.  He never looked up to see if anyone was listening.  As far as he knew, no one noticed his unpretentious solo.

But I was listening.  So were a handful of others.  Maybe it didn’t matter to him – I don’t think he was playing for us.  Even in the front room of that small assisted living center, I imagine he was playing for the same God who once called him to play in front of congregations.  And I have no doubt that the God who called him years ago was listening in the quiet, too.
Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Day in the Middle

Sometimes I wonder about the silence of Scripture.  I mean, what happened after the wedding in Cana where Jesus' first recorded miracle occurred - did the bride and groom ever know what had happened behind the scenes?  Did Jonah ever come to terms with God's mercy on Nineveh?  What about Naaman's servant girl after he was healed - and Naaman?  How did their lives change after the miraculous touched their world?

How about this one: What happened the day after Christ's crucifixion?

All four Gospel accounts give details of the grievous events of Good Friday and then focus on the triumph of Sunday morning.  They all fall strangely silent about the day in the middle: What was it like the day after Jesus died?

We are not given many clues.  The chief priests and Pharisees, who had long berated Jesus for "working" on the Sabbath, took some time that Sabbath day to stand before Pilate and request a guard on Jesus' tomb (Matthew 27:62-66).  In contrast, Luke tells us that those who buried Jesus and cared for Him "...rested according to the commandment" (Luke 23:56b).

Imagine the arrogant pomp of the Pharisees on that first Sabbath without the One who angered them so much.  What Torah text did they choose to read in the synagogue when they knew He would not be there to set them straight?  What about Nicodemus?  Joseph of Arimathea?

What was Pilate feeling that day - or Herod?  Didn't they feel the ground shake on Friday afternoon?  Didn't they notice the eerie, unnatural darkness?  The day after the Son of God died...were they still thinking about their role in His death?

What about the violent crowd?  Did they attend the synagogue that Sabbath?  Did they feel they had ousted a heretic or betrayed the only One who welcome them as they were?  Didn't they remember the lunch that fed 5,000?  The healings?  The teachings?  As they entered the synagogue that Saturday, I wonder if they felt like everything was back to normal.  Did they miss the presence of the One who had stirred up their traditions - but brought power with Him?  Did they regret the previous night?

What must have been whirling around and around in the minds and hearts of Jesus' disciples that day.  How they must have replayed in their mind what He had done and what He had said, and how they must have questioned everything they had believed about the Messiah.

We can imagine not only the grief, but the guilt they felt at abandoning Him.   Peter must have agonized over his denials before the rooster crowed.  How all of them must have felt despair, fear, loneliness, shock.

The disciples must have felt abandoned.  They were confused.  All they had learned and lived for had fallen apart in less than twenty-four hours.  The reason for their hope, their faith, and their very lives - gone?
But not for long.
When we feel the contradictions of being an eternal soul in a dying world, when we know we are children of light but the darkness remembers our name, when we believe God has a plan, but we just don't see how it could work out alright...we aren't the first to feel that way.

Today, by grace, we know something the disciples didn't yet understand as they huddled in fear with questions racing through their minds.  We know the story isn't over yet.

Early the next morning, everything changed!

"And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”"
Acts 1:9-11

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Sinner's Guest

"And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich."
Luke 19:2

Not only a tax collector, but chief among them.  A tax collector of tax collectors.  His presence emanated authority and power.  The swarms of the common people avoided him as if he were a Roman soldier, and the reason why was obvious when taxes were collected.  Whether or not his demands were fair and legal, the people had no choice but to comply.  Yes, Zacchaeus was a rich man.

The tax collector's height (or lack thereof) rarely bothered him.  When taxes were collected, his small stature was of no consequence: the commoners spoke to him with respect (and a reasonable dose of fear) and surrendered to him all that he required.

But today wasn't tax day.

With excitement, anticipation, and a hint of revengeful glee, the throngs of people thrust Zacchaeus aside.  Aware of his lack of popularity, the tax collector of tax collectors entered the current of people advancing toward a welcome Guest.

The waves surrounding him seemed to enjoy his plight.  His money - rightfully theirs - didn't help him right now, and the commoners certainly weren't going to.  They didn't owe him this time.  They knew today wasn't tax day.

In frustration, Zacchaeus climbed a tree to get a closer look.  He felt more comfortable when he was higher than the common people.  Now in plain view, Zacchaeus soon felt the familiar stares of contempt.  Soon, he noticed Someone else staring at him - but not with contempt.

The children's song tells what happened next: "I'm going to your house today," the Guest told the shunned chief of tax collectors.

Today was grace day.

As Zacchaeus' door closed behind him and his honored Guest, disapproval grumbled through the crowd.  After waiting for the Teacher to change His mind, the commoners returned to their normal business, complaining to each other in disbelief: "'He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner'" (Luke 19:7).

A few lingered longer, marveling that such a Guest would stoop to let such a sinner be His host.  At last, these, too, continued on their way, their blinded hearts still judging.  They could not yet see the change taking place in sinner Zacchaeus' heart.  They did not understand that the Guest came in search of stained sinner hearts, including their own.

One day they would marvel again.  The Guest would return to other sinner hearts...and never leave.

'"Behold, I stand at the door and knock.
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,
I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me."'
Revelation 3:20

Image courtesy of artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friday, March 7, 2014

When They Drive You Crazy

I've heard it many times: "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17).  For years, I have assumed this verse is about the mutual relationships between good friends.  Friends who love each other.  Laugh together.  Actually like each other.  Friends who had polite, deep, encouraging, stimulating, uplifting conversations.

Doesn't that sound great?

Don't get me wrong.  This kind of friend is wonderful, and I am very blessed to have some of these friendships in my life.  But on deeper thought, I don't think Solomon had my warm, inviting scenario in mind when he penned Proverbs 27:17.

Straightforward Sharpening
The verse itself is very straightforward, but not very detailed: "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”  There are no qualifiers.  The text doesn't call for people who are "equally yoked" or "equally mature," and it doesn't seem to be describing relationships that would be considered "mutually beneficial."  Nope.  Just "one man sharpens another."  Any man sharpens any other?  That's a broad brush.

Judging by the little I know about sharpening something, it seems to me that it wouldn’t be a pleasant process.  Sharpening is accomplished through constant pressure and a lot of friction.  It causes heat and makes a terrible noise.

Is this how you would describe your relationship with your BFF?

What If...
Could it be that we are sharpened in every relationship?  Is it possible that the annoying person who seems to follow you around - the one you've told yourself you are influencing for the better - is shaping you, too?

That guy who always misunderstands what you say, always challenges your points, or maybe just plain gets on your nerves – could he be sharpening you?
It’s an interesting thought.  What if the interruptions other people cause in our plans, the differences in others' personalities, and the many (but minor) inconveniences others bring our way...are all part of iron sharpening iron?  After all, if any man sharpens any other, then maybe that pesky person you can’t avoid may be the sharpest sharpener in your life.

Day In and Day Out
Do you know how easy it would be for me to be kind when no one bothered me?  Do you know how effortlessly I could be patient when no one messed up my plans?  It would be so easy to be loving when there was no one to push the limits of that love.

But it would be empty.

I cannot be kind without being kind to someone.  I cannot be patient without being patient with someone.  And love has no meaning without an object of that love--a person.

An individual, made in the image of God, with their own desires, personality, strengths, weaknesses...and, yes, sin.

That would require kindness.  Patience.  Love.

Sometimes we are called to represent Christ to people who drive us crazy.  We can't do it once per person or once a month and then check it off a list.  We are called to represent Him wherever we are and whoever we are with, day in, day out, no matter how difficult the other person is.  Day in and day out, others' grating attitudes or personal idiosyncrasies will often continue to eat at us.

Annoying, yes.  But we'll be sharper for it.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Thank You

At the daycare where I work a preschooler bowed his head to pray before snacktime.  Honestly, I wasn't completely listening to all of his prayer, but most of it was typical for the kids in his class: "Thank You for our parents.  Thank You for our teachers..." and so on and so forth.  I remembered to pay attention as he ended his prayer: "Thank You for the sun and the moon and the stars.  Amen."

Sweet.  Cute.  Okay, time for snack.  It wasn't until later that I really thought about it.

What fills most of your prayers?  When I pray, my mind is usually centered on my needs, my concerns, my worries, and my problems.

As Christians we can bring every worry, concern, or problem to the throne of grace.  It is an inconceivable blessing that we are called to take part of: "The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" (Philippians 4:5b-6).  We are invited to bring every request to our God.

We bring our needs.  Our worries.  We often bring thanks for our family and friends and for our health and safety. But how often do we thank Him for the gifts He faithfully gives us day after day after day - gifts that we stopped noticing a long time ago?

Do we thank Him for keeping the air so perfectly oxygenated?  Do we show our gratitude for sunrises and snowflakes and flowers that come up every spring without our help?

When was the last time you thanked God for the stars?  I'm not even sure when I last looked at the stars - they're just there.  Since they don't directly affect my everyday life, it is so easy for me to simply forget about them.  I'm not sure I ever thanked God for them.

But why not?  The stars show His handiwork, His grand greatness, and His power.  Why not thank Him for the beauty of the stars?

"I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks for early light dappled through leaves and the heavy perfume of wild roses in early July and the song of crickets on humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and all the good things that a good God gives." - Ann Voskamp

It is good to pray for what we need and what worries us.  It is good to thank God for the significant blessings we appreciate.  Yet how many blessings do we fail to even notice?  There is so much we take for granted - yet He gives freely anyway.

"Thank You for the sun and the moon and the stars..."

Sunday, February 16, 2014

What's the Point?

I watched Beauty and the Beast today - once upon a time it was my favorite movie.  Even now, I love the song "Be Our Guest," where Lumiere (the French candlestick) says, "Life is so unnerving, for a servant who's not serving."

Much has been said about spiritual gifts, the teaching that each Christian is given a particular ability by God:
"Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.  And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues" (1 Corinthians 12:27-28).
I have yet to figure out my spiritual gift.  I remember a quiz we took in youth group years ago, where we added up our score to determine our primary spiritual gift.  Being the sentimental packrat I am, I think I still have that score sheet somewhere, but I have long forgotten the results.

More recently I've heard about the importance of the different spiritual gifts, but I haven't taken the time to determine my own.  To be honest, I read the list of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 the other day without even slowing down to consider it.

But then I immediately came to 1 Corinthians 13 - the love chapter.  Like many of you, I've read it countless times, even memorized it.  But for the first time, I noticed something familiar:
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
Did you catch it?  Read it again, with the list of spiritual gifts in mind.  Right after he finishes teaching about spiritual gifts, Paul starts talking about love.  He opens the "love chapter" by rephrasing the spiritual gifts he just talked about.

The "tongues of men and angels"?  That sounds like the gift of speaking in tongues - he just mentioned it a few verses earlier.

And "prophetic powers" would be the gift of prophecy, right?

Understanding "all mysteries and all knowledge" reminds me of the gift of teaching.

"All faith, so as to remove mountains" sounds like the gift of miracles.

And on it goes.  Paul tells us that, no matter what spiritual gift we have, if we don't use it in love, we may as well not have the gift in the first place.

But Paul continues.  "Let all things be done for building up" (1 Corinthians 14:26).  And what builds up?
"This 'knowledge' puffs up, but love builds up" (1 Corinthians 8:1).
What builds up?  Love.

I still couldn't tell you my spiritual gift, because I don't know what it is.  Maybe I should.

Life can be unnerving for a servant who's not serving.  But perhaps it is even worse for a servant who is serving, using his gift - but not in love.  Even if I were to find out my spiritual gift tomorrow, what matters is whether I'm doing whatever I'm doing in love - and to build up the church.
If I know my spiritual gift and use it every chance I get, but not in love, without building up the church...what's the point?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Six Things I Learned from a Visit with the Doctor

1.  Needles aren't as bad as I work them up to be.  Every time I know I'm going to have a needle prick I get a little nervous about it...and every time I realize that needles aren't anything to worry about.

2. People are interesting.  I do not remember the last time I saw this doctor, and I certainly didn't recall his personality.  He entered the room with a loud, "Fancy meeting you here!" - like I had ever met him anywhere else.  In the next few minutes, I learned that he grew up with missionary parents in India, and that he followed his brother's footsteps by choosing the medical field.  I was surprised that I went for a simple, to-the-point physical and was receiving a riveting, far-from-to-the-point story of an interesting life.

3. Life is unpredictable.  The doctor told me that three of his friends died in the last year, two unexpectedly.  I suppose in the medical field he sees more of death and dying than most of us, but we all see some of it.

4. Wherever you are, be all there.  Okay, so I first heard this from Jim Elliot, but I think our family doctor would agree.  "Mom wanted me to be a preacher," he said.  "I did not want to be a preacher."  But he did not leave his faith out of his work.  Shrugging his shoulders as he sat in his office, he explained, "I preach here a lot."

5. Your deepest influence may not be what you once thought.  I imagine he realizes that he sometimes impacts patients like me.  He probably knows he has an influence on children who are scared of his office or adults who are scared of major life changes.  But as he began his medical career all those years ago, I doubt the doctor thought about what an influence he might have on those who work for him.  After he left the room, I mentioned to the doctor's medical assistant that the doctor seemed like a neat boss.  Without any hesitation, she agreed: "Oh, the best."

6. Ordinary can be extraordinary.  It certainly was an interesting doctor visit.  I wonder how many "ordinary" people have led such full lives and have so much to tell those of us who are still trying to decide how to fill our lives.  Maybe the doctor will write some of his hard-earned wisdom down for us sometime.  It is possible - "I may write a book one day," he told me.  Meanwhile, he did offer one piece of advice:

"Just live each day with joy and grace."
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