Jesus, life

With God as our Father.

Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me
Let There Be Peace on Earth
The peace that was meant to be

With God as our Father
Brothers all are we
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony.

Remember when we were allowed to sing songs like that in school?

My tone-deaf, little elementary school heart would sing every word with gusto.

I thought back to those tender days this morning, curled up on my sofa with the first snow of the season falling, scrolling facebook with one hand and holding a hot cup of coffee (cream, cinnamon and the slightest drizzle of maple syrup) in the other.

Someone posted this:

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I smiled.

Hard to do when they are in your face, I thought as I scrolled by, but amen.

Then came this, posted by the same woman:

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And I smiled at her second offering of peace and goodwill.

Yes, I thought, it’s not a matter of whether you are a democrat or a republican, it’s not a matter of how you voted, it’s a matter of whether or not you have the love of God in your heart. People in each camp do, people in each camp don’t.

And then my heart grew heavy.

“Nope. None of that,” her own daughter wrote. “Racist, misogynist or xenophobe, and/or vote for people who are intolerant of diversity? I don’t need you in my life. I especially don’t need you in my children’s lives. I will not normalize intolerance. Hate does not get a seat at the table.”

Wait, where’s your tolerance for diversity of opinion?

Isn’t normalizing intolerance exactly what you’re doing, exactly what you’re modeling for your children?

Does this mean your mom doesn’t get a seat at your table?

It sounds like she hates her mom, who likely didn’t vote as she did.

Yet I know her mom would not deny her a seat at her table.

Which brought my thoughts back to Mother Teresa.

I felt achingly sad:

For the mom whose Shalom and was met with anger.

For me.

For all of us.

I kept scrolling.

Another lovely woman posted this:

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Lots of people are getting an “F” these days.

I’m not getting an “F”,” I can hear you huff, “because mine is the morally superior view.”

It’s not about views, it’s about behavior.

It’s about a lack of respect for others; it’s about hate for those you deem morally inferior; it’s about the unforgiveness you harbor in your heart.  There’s no “A” in that.

Resist the urge to tell me about anyone else’s heart (which you cannot possibly know), and exam yours.  Take the log out of your eye so you can see clearly.

Loving your enemy is the high road.  That’s where love travels.

There is no love in prideful claims of moral superiority.

There is no peace in them either.

I would love for there to be peace on earth, and there will be.

But first there will be increasing strife.

In telling His disciples about the end times, Jesus said:

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Mark 13:12

I would love for it to begin with me, but it won’t, it didn’t.

It began with a humble birth in a barn and it ended with a humble death on a cross.

Jesus won our peace – quietly, humbly, respectfully.

As I was pondering all this, my heart grew much heavier.

My daughter called.

She didn’t want me to be alarmed if I checked “Find My Friends” and saw her at the hospital.

She left work and was on her way there because someone close to her attempted suicide this morning, is on life support and is not expected to make it.

I hung up the phone and sobbed.

The ache in my heart became almost unbearable.

There are people who are hurting so much that they attempt to take their own lives and there are people huddled in hospital waiting rooms with broken hearts and there are people who take their morally superior attitudes online and post angry comments.

Shalom.

I recently learned a richer meaning of the word “shalom”.   It’s more than an absence of hostility, it’s a state of wellness.  In A Life Beyond Amazing, Dr. David Jeremiah wrote, “Its basic meaning is ‘to be whole, or safe, or sound.’ Shalom designates a condition in which life can best be lived. It is the concept of integrity; body, soul and spirit are in alignment. In shalom, you have more than the absence of hostility. You have a quality of life that nurtures peace.

Oh that we would all have a quality of life that nurtures peace.

Ever since I read that definition, I’ve been praying shalom over everything – the election, Dixie’s belly…

Just now I am praying shalom over the young man on life support: a miraculous recovery, solid ground going forward, wellness of body, soul and spirit.

I’m praying safe and sound over his shattered parents, siblings, children and all who love him. I’m asking for the peace that is beyond our understanding; that seems so impossible at times like these.

I’m praying shalom over my own heavy heart.

I’m praying His kingdom come, His will be done here on this messed up earth as it is in heaven.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jesus, life, sermon

Job

The very beginning of Job chapter 1 tells us that  Job was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. 

He had such a healthy fear of God that when his sons held family feasts to celebrate their birthdays, he would get up early the next morning and sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them – just in case one of them sinned and cursed God in their hearts.

That’s the kind of man he was – He sacrificed for his children – acted as their priest – every single time they feasted.

Meanwhile in heaven, the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan showed up. 

The Lord asked Satan, “Where have you been?”

“I’ve been surveying the earth.”

“Have you seen Job? There is no one on earth as blameless and upright as he.”

“Of course he’s blameless and upright,” Satan hissed, “You’ve given him nothing but protection and blessings. Take it all away and he will curse you to your face.”

“Go ahead then, take everything I’ve given him,” the Lord replied,  “but don’t lay a finger on his body.”

So when Job’s sons and daughters were gathered at the oldest brother’s house feasting and drinking wine, a messenger came to Job and cried, “All of your oxen and donkeys have been stolen and all of your ranch hands have been killed!”

Another messenger came: “Fire has fallen from heaven and burned up all your sheep and shepherds!’

A third messenger reported, “Raiders have made off with all your camels and all their caretakers have been killed!”

Yet another messenger hurried in with horrific news, “The roof of your son’s house has collapsed and all your sons and daughters are dead!”

Job tore his robe and shaved his head, fell to the ground in worship and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”

“In all this,” Scripture says,  “Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”

Satan basically accused Job of loving God for His money.

But when the money was gone, when his children and his employees and his livestock –  all his wealth – were gone,  Job continued to praise.

You would think that Job’s praise would have shut the accuser up – proved that Job loved God for who He is and not for what He could give him.

Except the accuser doesn’t shut up.  We all have first hand knowledge of that.

Instead of shutting up, he showed up at another angelic staff meeting.

Again the Lord said to him, “Where have you come from?”

Again Satan answered, “I’ve been out surveying the earth.” 

Apparently that’s what he does.  Peter said he prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

“Did you see Job?,” the Lord asked,  “he still maintains his integrity, even though you incited me to ruin him for no reason.”

Integrity is an important word to this story.

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines integrity as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.”  The second definition is “the state of being whole and undivided.”  It’s to have all parts of your life integrated and consistent.  To be the same on the inside and the outside, in public and in private.

Even after all of his tragic losses, Job remained consistent and God was proud of him.

“Anyone can maintain their integrity after losing their stuff,” the accuser spat, “but strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

“Very well, take his health, too; but you must spare his life.”

So Satan afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.

And there was nothing for Job to do but sit among the ashes scraping himself with a piece of broken pottery. Remember the itchy misery of chicken pox?

Seeing him sitting there, his wife had had enough. “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

But Job was committed to God in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. 

He replied to his wife.

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

Again Scripture reports, “In all his suffering he did not sin in what he said.”

Four of Job’s friends heard what happened and went to comfort him.

When they saw him from a distance, they hardly recognized him; they began to weep, they tore their robes, sprinkled dust on their heads and got down in the ashes with him. 

For seven days and nights they sat with him and no one said a word because they saw how great his suffering was.

And then, after seven silent days,  Job opened his mouth and wondered why he had ever been born.

Once he broke the silence, his friend, Eliphaz, dared to speak.

“Think how you have instructed many,
how you have always strengthened and supported those who stumble
But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged;
Shouldn’t you be confident in your piety, 
shouldn’t your blameless ways be your hope?”

Eliphaz started well, with words we all want to hear in our distress – “You’re a good person, you don’t deserve this.”

My dad spoke those words to me over the phone when my first husband left. “You are a fine Christian woman, you don’t deserve this.”  And, bless his compassionate heart, he left it that.

But Eliphaz’s words of comfort quickly turned to condemnation.

“Or maybe you’re not so blameless… in my experience,” he continued, “you reap what you sow.”

“So even though it appears that you’re an upstanding citizen on the outside, there must be some hidden sin on the inside. 

Only the wicked suffer, after all, and you’re suffering, therefore you must be wicked.”

Then, to his faulty logic Eliphaz added a spiritual gut punch:

“A word was secretly brought to me,
my ears caught a whisper of it.
Amid disquieting dreams in the night,
when deep sleep falls on people,
fear and trembling seized me
and made all my bones shake.

A spirit glided past my face,
and the hair on my body stood on end.
It stopped,
but I could not tell what it was.

A form stood before my eyes,
and I heard a hushed voice:
‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God?
Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker?”

Eliphaz assumed that the presence that came into his room and gave him insight was God, but I don’t think it was.

Because God doesn’t accuse.  The accuser accuses.

And God doesn’t twist the truth.

The twister of truth twists the truth.

Job never claimed to be more righteous than God, to be more pure than his Maker.  Job’s words and actions clearly showed that he knew his humble position.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.”

“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

He sacrificed for his children after every party for crying out loud, you can’t get more aware of your need for atonement than that.

Job never claimed to be more righteous than God yet here’s the snake in the dark shadows of Eliphaz’s bedroom hissing and twisting and accusing and planting seeds of condemnation.

You gotta’ feel for Job.  He has lost everything, he’s covered in itchy, oozy sores and now his “friend” is saying that he brought it all on himself.  Hinting that the problem might be his self-righteousness.

It’s ironic that the accuser would plant that particular prejudice against Job in Eliphaz’s mind when the whole reason he got booted from heaven was because he wanted to be above God.

When we point a finger at another, we’re pointing three back at ourselves.

Job replied, “Seriously?  That’s how you are going to respond to the magnitude of my suffering? Give me specific examples of my sin and self-righteousness and I’ll be quiet. But don’t make accusations without proof, my integrity is at stake.”

And then, because his friend got into his head, Job turned his attention to God.

“What is mankind that you make so much of us,
that you give us so much attention,(scrutinize us so closely)
and test us at every moment?

Will you never look away from me,
or let me alone even for an instant?
If I have sinned, tell me what I have done,
you who see everything we do.”

For the next 3 chapters Job lamented his misery and wondered what he did wrong. Have you ever been there?  I have.  When my first husband left.

Eliphaz (with Satan’s help) played into Job’s fear of offending God, he exploited his fastidiousness, leaving  Job crushed under the weight of what he thinks is God’s condemning gaze.

But what Job and his friends don’t know is what transpired in heaven between God and Satan.

Job’s confusion and Eliphaz’s condemnation are all based on a lack of information.

That’s something we should remember when we are in the midst of a spiritual struggle – or a relationship struggle or a work situation:

When things don’t add up, there is more to the equation.

His second friend, Bildad spoke up.

“How long will you maintain your innocence when clearly you are lying?
God doesn’t pervert justice, therefore if you are suffering it must be warranted.

Case in point, your children.  Clearly they all sinned or they wouldn’t all be dead.

But if you will seek God earnestly and confess
And if you are pure and upright,
He will restore you to your prosperous state.”

OMG.  His children were all crushed under the roof of his eldest son’s house at a birthday party and this “friend” is saying it was because of their sin?

If I were Job, and if I weren’t weak with fever and grief, I might have grabbed Bildad’s neck.

Instead Job answered, 

“Indeed, I know that I should plead with God,
But how can mere mortals prove their innocence before God? 

His wisdom is profound, his power is vast.
Who has resisted him and come out unscathed?

Though I were innocent, I could not answer him;
I could only plead with my Judge for mercy.

If it is a matter of strength, he is mighty!
And if it is a matter of justice, who can challenge him?

Even if I were innocent, my mouth would condemn me;
if I were blameless, it would pronounce me guilty.”

Then Zophar, jumped on the condemnation bandwagon:

He, too, had been listening to Job with prejudiced ears. He too was offended by Job’s claim of innocence. 

What all three friends failed to hear is that when Job claimed to be innocent, he wasn’t claiming to be perfect or more righteous than God.

He was saying that he didn’t do anything to warrant complete devastation.

It’s like when some friends from my young marrieds Sunday school class called after my husband left wondering what I did.  Some were looking for scandal, some were looking for rhyme and reason – assurance that a random abandonment wouldn’t happen to them.

When I answered, “I didn’t do anything.” I didn’t mean I was perfect or blameless, I meant I didn’t do anything to warrant being abandoned – I didn’t have an affair, for example – as one of my callers had.  By Job’s friends’ logic her husband should have been gone, not mine.

Zophar said, “Do you really think you’re going to win this argument when it’s three against one and you are clearly wrong because you’re the one covered in sores?

I won’t sit back and listen to you mock God.
You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless
and I am pure in your sight.’

Oh, how I wish that God would speak,
that he would open his lips against you.”

Do you ever wish God would open His mouth and speak against someone when you are convinced that you are right and he/she is wrong?

Be careful with that because God did eventually open his mouth and speak against someone, but it wasn’t Job!

“Surely he recognizes deceivers,” Zophar continued,
“and when he sees evil, he takes note.

Yet if you devote your heart to him
and stretch out your hands to him,
if you put away the sin that is in your hand
then, free of fault, you will lift up your face;
you will stand firm and without fear.”

“THERE IS NO SIN IN MY HAND!”

Job was sick of the pat, spiritual answers that didn’t apply to his situation. He was sick of judgment parading as concern.  He was sick of insult being heaped on his injury.

 He replied to Zophar,

“You are miserable comforters, all of you!”

Tell me something I don’t know, something that will actually help.

What’s your problem that you insist I admit to some grave sin?

“I also could speak like you,
if you were in my place;
I could make fine speeches against you
and shake my head at you.
But I wouldn’t, I would speak words of comfort and encouragement.”

They all knew that was true because that was the first thing Eliphaz said when the silence was broken – “you’ve always strengthened and lifted up the faltering.”

Yet on him they heaped condemnation – all because the accuser whispered in Eliphaz’s ear and took control of the narrative.  If Eliphaz hadn’t been the first to speak would the others have been so quick to pile on?

Job, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar went ‘round and around for 28 chapters.  It’s a long thread.

Job turned his thoughts to the good old days:

“when people listened to him expectantly,
waiting in silence for his counsel.
For his words to fall gently on their ears.

To the days when people were thrilled to receive his smile, when the light of his face was precious to them.

Back to the days when he dwelt as a king among his troops;
When he was like one who comforts mourners.”

When he was treated with respect.

“But now,” he said, “my skin grows black and peels;
my body burns with fever.”

And after lamenting for quite awhile more, the words of Job ended.

Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar’s words ended, too.  There was no point in arguing with Job since he was clearly right in his own eyes and not willing to repent.

Young Elihu, who had been silent up until now, was angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He was also angry with the three friends, because they had failed to refute Job, and yet had condemned him.  They could produce no solid evidence against him but they still convicted him – all because of their faulty understanding of his situation, their prejudices against him and their limited understanding of God.  

(If you give each friend’s arguments a close reading, you will see their particular prejudices and jealousies bubble to the surface.)

Elihu started by saying something similar to what Eliphaz said:

“God speaks in various ways,
though no one perceives it.

In a dream, in a vision of the night,
when deep sleep falls on people
as they slumber in their beds,
he may speak in their ears
and terrify them with warnings,
to turn them from wrongdoing
and keep them from pride,”

Remember when Zophar claimed God gave him insight in his restless sleep?

This is different.  Here Elihu is saying God speaks to us about us in order to save us from sin.

He doesn’t whisper to us about the behavior of others so we can accuse and condemn.

In so doing, Elihu added salvation and redemption to the equation.

But then Elihu makes an arrogant statement, even as he accuses Job of thinking he’s perfect.

“Be assured that my words are not false;
one who has perfect knowledge is with you.”

Elihu is confident that he has perfect knowledge when he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about – implying that  Job’s problem is he won’t confess his sin and cry for mercy.

“God is wooing you from the jaws of distress.
But now you are laden with the judgment due the wicked;
judgment and justice have taken hold of you.”

And then Elihu reveals his particular prejudice:

“Be careful that no one entices you by riches;
do not let a large bribe turn you aside.

Would your wealth or even all your mighty efforts
sustain you so you would not be in distress?

Do not long for the night,
to drag people away from their homes.

Beware of turning to evil,
which you seem to prefer to affliction.” 

Elihu seems to assume that Job’s hidden sin has something to do with his wealth, with ill-gotten gain.  But if wealth were Job’s problem his story would not have ended as it does.

All this angst, all these accusations, all these prejudices surfaced because Satan couldn’t stand that a human would actually, sincerely want to please God.

It’s all the more maddening because Job was humble to begin with.  It wasn’t until he was forced defend himself against the accusations of his friends that he became puffed up.  And annoyed.

Elihu’s speech was closer to the truth about God than E’s, B’s or Z’s because he recognized God’s focus on redemption where they others were focused on judgment, but he was wrong about Job.  And he didn’t have perfect knowledge of the situation because he didn’t know the whole equation.

The only one who knew the truth about Job was God.

Job suffered because Satan accused God at an angelic gathering.  Just as Jesus suffered because Satan accused God at the base of a fruit tree.  It had nothing to do with Job.

When His disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Sometimes our suffering has nothing to do with us.

But in the midst of our suffering, when things don’t add up, we assume that God is angry with us.  We flail around trying to figure out why, beg Him to tell us what we did.  But if the answer isn’t obvious, then maybe we didn’t do anything wrong.

It’s interesting that when God finally spoke, He didn’t tell Job about the wager in heaven, He didn’t address Job’s suffering at all.  Instead He asked Job a series of questions all designed to help him understand mercy. 

To ask for mercy is to look up and beg, to be merciful is to stoop down and bestow kindness.

It’s a positional thing.

Job kept insisting that he had done nothing wrong but the need for mercy isn’t a matter of whether or not you’ve done something wrong, it’s simply a matter of humbly recognizing your size.

A carpenter ant looks up under the shadow of the sole of my shoe and begs for mercy, not because it did anything wrong, but because it is aware that it is small and I am big enough to squash it like a bug. (Actually, if it is in my house it did do something wrong, but if it’s outside, I won’t squash it, even though I can.)

Mercy is recognizing that God can do anything He wants, and trusting that what He wants is good.

God’s questions to Job also revealed Him as a powerful, genius Creator.

Job responded,

“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

You asked, ‘Who is this who obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.

Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”

Remember how at the beginning of the book God bragged about Job to Satan – called him upright and blameless?  God wasn’t nitpicking Job’s imperfections, as Job assumed, He was saying, “What about that Job, huh?” Like a proud Papa.

And now Job understood that God isn’t sitting in heaven judging, just waiting for us to mess up so He can pound the gavel.  He’s a Creator who sits in heaven and delights in His creation.  And who cares enough to stoop down in kindness and explain it to us.

After the Lord spoke to Job He said to Eliphaz, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. Now go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. 

See how God reiterated that Job’s friends were the ones who were wrong?  Perhaps because of Zophar’s wish that God would open his mouth and set  Job straight.

Notice something else here:  God doesn’t give the silent treatment, we don’t have to flail around wondering why He’s angry or if He’s angry.  He was angry with Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar and He said so.  And He said why.  And then He offered them the way of restoration.  Throughout the Old Testament God’s people would anger Him, He would send prophets to point out their sin, they would repent and be blessed.

Nowadays He sends the Holy Spirit.

So stop flailing.

The best thing we can do for a suffering friend is to keep what we think we know to ourselves and simply ask God to tell the person what they need to know.  Because He is the only one who can truly nail it. 

After Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. (Obviously his problem wasn’t his wealth.) All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.

 I’d have a really hard time accepting the fair weather comfort and consolation – at my dinner table – of those who mocked me when I was down, but God was gracious enough to restore Job’s good will toward men.

The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. In addition to his restored wealth, he also had seven sons and three daughters. 

Notice, the daughters are named and the sons are not.

Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.

Did you catch that? 

Now that Job saw God clearly, he did what he hadn’t done before, he gave his daughters an inheritance along with his sons.

Seeing God clearly causes the traditions of men to yield to the heart of God.

After this,  Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. 

And so Job died, old and full of years.

Job was seeing God with shiny new spiritual eyes and Bartimaeus wasn’t seeing a thing.

Our Gospel reading today tells us he was sitting along the roadside on the outskirts of Jericho when Jesus and His following went by.   When Bartimaeus heard that it was Jesus, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

Bartimaeus didn’t ask Jesus why he was blind, he asked for mercy. That was the lesson Job needed to learn:  Knowing why doesn’t make you see, the mercy of God does. 

There’s humility in a request for mercy.  There’s no accusation of wrong-doing, there’s no demand for fairness, just a humble request from the powerless to the all-powerful.

Many sternly ordered Bartimaeus to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Mercy can take many forms – the provision of a seeing eye dog, the invention of braille, friends to assist…

“I want to see!”

And see he did.

When you need mercy, speak up even when others tell you to pipe down.  Be specific about what you want God to do for you.

We could spend a bit of time on the Hebrews passage comparing  Job’s atoning sacrifices for his children party after party with  Jesus’s one sacrifice for every party past, present and future.  I could point out that Jesus is the Redeemer  Job longed for in chapter 19, and the Mediator he longed for in chapters 9, 25 and 33.  But I’d rather end with a personal story so I’ll answer Job’s question from earlier: “How can mere mortals prove their innocence before God?”

We don’t have to.  We have an eternal Mediator who lives to plead our case.

A Mediator who talks us through things and helps us make sense of it all.  He’s talked me through a few hard things.

Back when my first husband left me all those years ago and my so-called friends were breaking my heart – after much Job-like lamenting and Job-like confusion, God finally spoke and said, “You can choose to believe what your circumstances say about my love for you, or you can choose to believe what I say about my love for you.”

It was a defining moment.

Seventeen years later came another defining moment.  My daughter had just gone off to college when a sudden fall set off a string of strange neurological symptoms that baffled a string of doctors.  I sat on my sofa day after day trying to distract my fearful thoughts by watching movies as I waited to die.  It occurred to me that maybe God didn’t care about me as much as I thought He did.  Perhaps I had been foolish to think He cared about me at all.  I teetered between hope and despair until He finally reminded me of His defining moment.  The question of whether or not He loves us, whether or not He cares about us, was answered once and for all the minute He said yes to the cross.

Let that sink in:  The question of whether or not He loves us, whether or not He cares about us, was answered “yes” once and for all the minute He said yes to the cross.

“Okay,” I thought a few weeks later as I was washing my tear-streaked face, “He loves us.  But does He love me?”  I had always felt special to Him because I loved Him so much, but maybe I wasn’t.

As I grabbed the hand towel He reminded me of the day He called my name.  He reminded me of the following night when He revealed Himself to me.  It was a glorious revealing.  He called me into His family knowing that I would let Him down, knowing that I would let myself and others down, knowing every bit of my past, present and future, He adopted me.  

“Why would I call you into a relationship with Me and show Myself to you, only to abandon you?,” He asked.

 I love it when He reasons with me.  

He reminded me of everything I love about His character, His plans, His stick-to-itiveness.  He wouldn’t adopt me as His child and then turn His back on me.  He isn’t a bad parent.  He finishes the good work He begins in us.  He accomplishes His purposes.  He isn’t lazy or distracted.

“But Christians sometimes die in their prime, when their ministries are thriving and there is still work to be done,” I countered.  “So there is no guarantee I will recover.”

“If you don’t recover, it won’t be because I don’t care or because I am not paying attention or because I am unable.  It will be because it is time to come home.  And if it is your time and my will, you will have peace.”

I thought of the palpable peace He gave my sister as she battled cancer and faced death.  I realized that it wasn’t God who was trying to kill me, it was the author of fear.  If there is fear, then God’s hand is not in it.  And since the presence of fear proved the strange illness was from the devil’s hand and not God’s, I was going to be okay because God is stronger.  God loves us.  God loves me.  I rested in that and I recovered.

Job’s defining moment came when he resolved, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” 

Peter’s defining moment came not with words, but with action.  After he denied Christ thrice, after he threw his best friend under the bus to save his own skin, he got back up and walked with Him.  Not as one who was just barely forgiven, but as one who was amazing. (See Acts 2:14-41)

Those are the moments the Holy Spirit illuminates when I am struggling.

If you are suffering and wondering what you did wrong, wondering whether God still cares or ever cared, I’m here to say, of course He cares.  Of course He loves you. If nothing makes sense ask Him what’s missing from the equation.

Our defining moments, as tough and heartbreaking and scary as they are, are designed to bring us to the place where we “come to know and believe the love God has for us.”  1 John 4:16a

Does God see you in your suffering?  Does He love you?  Remember your adoption day? That was the day He answered “Yes!”  Forever.

Beth Moore shared a sweet moment she had with God:

He said to her:  “Don’t say, ‘I love you’ to Me.  Say, ‘I love you, too.’  Because I am always saying it first.”

No matter what is going on in your life, He is always saying it first.  Amen.

Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

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life

Public Opinion

I took a YouGov survey this morning. The first several questions dealt with sexual harassment in general. The next few dealt with the specific allegations made against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

One question asked whether or not he did what he was accused of doing.

I immediately ruled out the choices at both ends of the spectrum – “He definitely did it” and “He definitely did not do it.”

I wasn’t actually there so there is no way I could be definite one way or the other.

There’s no way anyone could.

I might not even be able to be definite if I were there, given that alcohol was involved and memories – especially old memories – are unreliable. Just ask any group of adult siblings how things went down in their family when they were growing up.

So, just as I always toss out options that include the words “always” and “never” when taking a test,  I tossed out “definitely did” and “definitely did not.”

That left me with “probably did” and “probably did not.”

In considering those choices I had nothing to go on but the testimony I heard, my life experience and my knowledge of human nature.

Regular people, I discovered young, aren’t above invoking political slander.

I was at a party in a cool apartment above a hip restaurant across from the campus of the university I was attending when I came face to face with this reality.  The party was a gathering of those of us who worked on the campus newspaper.

I was standing near the kitchen when Keith, the host of the party, walked by.

“Here,” he said, handing me his joint, “hold this while I answer the door.”

Before I could respond, the joint was in my hand and someone was snapping a picture of me. I think it was Mark Somebody.

“Now you can never run for anything,” he said.

I looked at him dumfounded. “You know I don’t smoke,” I said.

“It doesn’t matter,” he shrugged.

My fellow SNOOZER (State News-er) was willing to lie about me at some point in my future.  A budding journalist was willing to lie and I was aghast.

Any honest person will admit that political slander has happened on both sides, case in point: the swiftboating of John Kerry.

People will lie and exploit the vulnerable to promote a political agenda.

Just ask Sarah Weddington.

“The ends justify the means,” they say.

People lie to make themselves appear more sympathetic.

Just ask Norma McCorvey (when you get to heaven).

God rest her soul.

The Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion was steeped in a lie.

So my life experience tells me that people do lie, even under oath, even when its supremely important.

And the Bible backs up my life experience.

Otherwise there would have been no need for God to make His ninth commandment.

(I’m assuming you know it.)

Judge a tree by its fruit.

That’s what Jesus said.

So I took a minute before choosing my answer to look at Judge Kavanaugh’s fruit.

I considered the testimony of friends and former female clerks in his court, how they said he always acted professionally and treated them with respect.

I thought about his young daughter suggesting to her sister that they “pray for the woman” and I thought about the idiom that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, since we are talking about fruit.

Redemption.

I thought about rookie mistakes, growth, maturity, and redemption.

I dated a boy in high school who broke up with me because I wouldn’t have sex with him.   I ran into him at a party several months later.  In his drunkenness, he tried hard to take advantage of me.

I know nothing about his life now, but if I learned that for the last 40 years he has been a fine man with fine children and a fine reputation, I would believe it and rejoice that he outgrew his youthful foolishness. I’d chalk his high school behavior up to a rookie mistake – to a young man trying to measure up to society’s definition of being a man just as I chalk my own high school stupidity up to me trying to measure up to society’s definition of what it meant to be a woman.

But I wouldn’t give the same benefit of the doubt to the 30-year-old high school teacher who molested me.

Unless he gave one heck of a God-glorifying testimony.

And had one heck of a bushel of good fruit.

So, did Justice Kavanaugh do the things he was alleged to have done?

I checked the box for “Probably not.”

But after listening to the heartwarming speech President Trump made just before Justice Kavanaugh was publicly sworn in – the speech in which he said to Justice Kavanaugh something along the lines of, “Under a historic amount of scrutiny, you were found innocent.” – I realized that I’m an idiot.

And I wish I could go back and change my answer to “Definitely did not do it.”

Because that’s what the presumption of innocence is all about.

I can presume someone is definitely innocent – even if I wasn’t there – unless and until the evidence proves them guilty.

Thank God for that.

God bless you Justice Kavanaugh.

 

 

 

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life

Happy Birthday Dear Void.

Every January 18, as soon as I wake up, I’m immediately aware that it’s my dad’s birthday.  My bleary, sleep-encrusted eyes glance at his joyful face, smiling at me from the photo atop my chest of drawers.

“I miss you,” I say, sometimes as a whisper aloud, sometimes as just a thought in my head,  “Happy Birthday.”

At some point in the day every January 26, usually when I’m writing a check or have some other cause to glance at the date, I remember that it is Dan R’s birthday.

I have only seen Dan a handful of times in the last 30 years – at a couple of high school reunions, at his dad’s funeral, during an overnight visit to his home in upstate New York on my way home from a biking vacation in Vermont…

But I’ve remembered his birthday every year since we met on the Bob-lo boat in 9th grade.

I remembered it even before facebook started reminding me.  I sometimes interact with his wife on facebook, but I have absolutely no interaction with him except to write, “Happy Birthday old friend,” (double entendre) on his wall every January 26.

Every February 2 I wish my childhood friend, Patty Holden, a happy birthday.  “Happy Birthday Patty,” I say into the void.  Haven’t seen her in at least 28 years but I remember her day without fail.

This morning, as I was doing the dishes I should have done last night, I thought of the guy I dated in college.  I think of him every July 31.

I understand why I always remember my dad, who’s been celebrating his birthdays in heaven these last 20 years, but I wonder why it is that I remember the other three.

Of course I always remember the birthdays of my sisters and my mom, and I think of my daughter and the hub all day long on their birthdays.

And I occasionally remember the birthdays of other old friends and boyfriends whom I haven’t seen in many years, but why is it that I remember those three every year without fail?

Anyway, Happy Birthday Ron Sobel.

 

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faith, life

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

There’s not much to do when the heat index is 105 degrees so we went to a movie, a documentary, actually, about Fred Rogers.  

I loved Mr. Rogers when I was a kid, I watched him everyday.  I credit him for shaping me into the kindhearted individual I am – or at least was. 

To quote Ouiser Boudreaux (Steel Magnolias), “I’m not as sweet as I used to be.”

I loved Mr. Rogers as a kid, but I didn’t realize his brilliance until I sat in that air conditioned movie theater on Saturday.

Mr. Rogers planted a seed deep in my heart which sprouted into a belief that God loves me,  even though he never mentioned God.  In fact, I didn’t know that he was an ordained minister until I was an adult.

All I knew as a kid was that a kind man who cared about kids, who cared about me, was out there and my little-kid brain extrapolated that into believing a kind God, who cares about kids, who cares about me, is out there, too.

We evangelicals of the 80’s and 90’s had it wrong.

Back when I was a fully indoctrinated evangelical, I was taught that God’s name had to be blatantly emblazoned upon a thing in order for it to be “Christian.”

Christian music had to mention His name, repeatedly.

Christian authors were suspect if their writings didn’t include doctrinally approved Christianese.

But then I started to listen to God more closely.  He said He is Love.  He said He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  My adult brain began to extrapolate that to all that is loving, true and life-giving.

A song about forgiveness is a song about God.

A writing that is noble, pure and true is a writing about God.

A movie that spurs me on toward love and good deeds is a movie about God.

On the way home my daughter said, “My favorite part of the movie was when the minister said Fred’s show preached a better sermon than anything you hear from a pulpit.”

Amen.

“Fred’s work,” he said, “was love your neighbor and love yourself. It was a communication right into their hearts.”

Right into my heart.

Would you be mine? Could you be mine?

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life

Masculinist Fiasco

The four-year-olds sat on the floor in a quiet, orderly cluster.  They each raised a hopeful hand in response to their teacher’s questions and then waited patiently to be called upon.

My three-soon-to-be-four-year-old sat at the outer edge.  She didn’t raise her hand.  We were only there to observe.

I hadn’t planned to send her to pre-school, figured 13 years of the five-day-a-week educational grind was years enough.

But the September before she was to begin kindergarten she suddenly wanted to go.  She WANTED to go.  Because her friends were going.

A fellow volunteer at the pregnancy center recommended the pre-school housed within the church at 11 Mile and Woodward.  The son of one of the center’s board members attends there, she said.

So I arranged for us to check it out before I signed on the dotted line, to make sure I liked it, and, more importantly, to make sure my daughter liked it.

The grandmotherly teacher asked a question.

All the clustered hands went up.

She called on a boy in the front.

The teacher asked another question.

All hands went up.

She called on a boy in the middle.

The teacher asked another question, and another and then another.

All hands went up, up, up.

She called on a boy, and then on another and then another.

On and on it went, one boy after another.

My spirit started to feel a little sick.

Those hopeful female hands kept going up, and those hopeful female hands kept coming silently back down.

The class moved on to their next activity, the same pattern developed.

“Would you like to stay all morning?,” the teacher asked.

I glanced toward my daughter.  Her heart did not appear set on staying.

“No thank you,” I smiled back.

And with that I took my daughter’s smart, sweet little hand and led us the heck out of there.

I had to drive quite a distance to get there, but I found an excellent pre-school – one where all the children were allowed to speak.  All of them were given a turn, all were allowed to know things. And since one of her best friends from church was in the class, my daughter, oblivious to the masculism she had witnessed at the corner of 11 Mile and Woodward, was happy with my choice – my Monday, Wednesday and Friday choice because a three-almost-four-year-old and her mama needed one more year of some sleeping in days.

I wondered, as we made our bee-line out of there, what would become of the girls in that unfortunate pre-school. I wondered what would become of the boys. I wondered what effect the subliminal message etched daily upon their young brains would have upon their futures.

That little class came to mind this morning as I sent my husband this text:

He’s not following our layout even after I asked him to follow the numbers. I’m not going to fight with him anymore. He just does what he wants no matter what I say.

We are remodeling our master bath.  It’s been a fiasco, but I’m not here to gripe.

I’ll just say it’s been one disappointment after another.

On the first day the tile guy came, he said he’d lay out the tile for my husband’s approval.

I just looked at him.

My husband reminded the project manager that the approval that’s needed is mine, not his.

I was concerned that first day about the measurements.  I had spent considerable time pre-project going over them in my genius head, knowing the placement of the shower tiles was going to have to be precise in order to get the look I was after.

So I kept bringing it up.  I brought it up to the project manager and he brushed me off.

Each time I tried to discuss it with the tile guy he’d grab his measuring tape, extend the little silver tab, waive the erect tape in the air and throw out numbers that were proof positive he hadn’t thought it through.

The project manager assured me that the tile guy has thirty years of experience.

I chose to shut up and trust.

Even though I knew better.

Needless to say, his measurements were off and my shower tile will forever have the look of an amateur.

At professional prices.

The hub had a talk with the project manager, said we weren’t confident in the tile guy’s ability.  The hub told him if we were to proceed I was to be included in all problem-solving discussions and I was to sign off on the decisions.

“Did you tell him I’m good at problem solving?,” I asked the hub. “Did you tell him I’m a genius?”

“No, but I could have,” the hub replied.

The PM assured the hub I would have a say.  He talked to the tile guy and assured me the rest of the bathroom would be done properly.

Gave me his word.

The hub and I didn’t want to leave it to chance.  So last night, at midnight, after discovering that the marble floor tiles appear to be mismatched (as I said, disappointments at every turn and at every opening of a box) we stayed up and laid them out in a pattern that minimized the problem.  I know the beauty of natural stone is the variations, and I love variations, but this looked like leftovers of the three different types of tile the tile shop sells were all bundled up and unloaded on us.  I’m not saying that’s what happened, I’m just saying that’s how it looked.

So the hub and I stayed up beyond tired and laid them out, closed the door and went to bed.

This morning I got up early and numbered them in such a way that the tile guy would know the order and orientation of each one.

When he arrived I pointed it out and asked him to follow the numbers.

“Got it,” he said in his typically friendly voice.

Late night, early morning time well spent, I thought, as I went about my chores.

Mid-morning I peeked in to see how it was coming.

The stickers were off the tiles and stuck to the subfloor. Half the tiles had already been cemented down in no where near the pattern we had laid out.

“You didn’t like our layout?,” I asked when he returned from the garage and came up behind me.

“It was fine,” he replied.

“You didn’t follow it.”

He said he did.

“That tile was there,” I said, pointing out one example.

That’s when I texted to the hub.

He just does what he wants no matter what I say.

As I loaded the dishwasher, my thoughts drifted back to that unfortunate little pre-school class and to the little boys in the cluster.

And I knew what had become of them.

I was going to end the post with that sentence, I was just putting the period on it when friendly tile guy told me he was done for the day.

I left my laptop and ran upstairs while he was cleaning up in the garage.

There was a whole monochromatic section that looked horrible.

I knew the hub and my eye-for-such-things daughter would think so, too.

I rushed outside to catch him before he left.

“Is it too late to move some tiles?,” I asked.

“Why, which one?,” he asked, with a slight exasperation in his voice.

“There’s a whole monochromatic section and monochromatic is the look we were trying to avoid.”

The look we stayed up past midnight to avoid, I didn’t say out loud.

We went up stairs.  I showed him where. He replaced a tile.  Then another. Then there was one he thought looked out of place, so he scraped that one up, too.  In all we rearranged four or five tiles.  He’ll cement them down tomorrow.

“Good thing we got that resolved,” he said as he was heading back downstairs, “tomorrow they would have come out in pieces.”

“I thought it might already be too late,” I said, “but I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.”

“We were right on the edge,” he said, “it was almost dry.”

I’m kind of proud of myself for speaking up after having been brushed off so many times.

For hopefully raising my hand once more.

The hub and I were discussing the previous fiasco on the way to church last week.

“When a man speaks up,” I remarked, “he’s just being a man. But when a woman speaks up she’s being a b-i-t-c-h.”

“Speak up anyway,” he said.

Thank God for the pre-school we chose, where when a little boy speaks up he’s just being a boy and when a little girl speaks up she’s just being a girl.  And that’s what’s being etched into their young brains.

And thank God I didn’t go to pre-school.

P.S.  As the tile guy and I were rearranging, I said, “It looks like leftovers of the three types of marble the shop sells were all bundled together, it doesn’t match, which is why making the the layout look good is so difficult.

“It was on backorder and then it wasn’t?,” he asked.  “The boxes had plastic straps around them?”

“Yes,” I said.

“When I’m doing a job from start to finish and not the subcontractor,” he said, “I reject the boxes with the white straps and wait for a new shipment. When guys return leftover tiles to the shop, the shop has them bundle them together to resell.”

“Why didn’t you tell me that before you laid it?,” I asked.  “Before it was too late.  I would have waited.”

“I didn’t want to get in the middle. The PM won’t be happy that I’m telling a customer this.” (Confirming it ‘cuz I already knew.  It doesn’t take a genius.)

I wish he had gotten in the middle.

“I’ve learned something today,” I told the tile guy.  “Never accept boxes of tiles wrapped in straps.”

I wish I’d known it yesterday.

Wish I’d known it before it was too late.

At least it’s not too late for you, dear reader.

Now, should I raise my hand again and ask for a refund on the tile I actually ordered and have them charge me instead for three boxes of mismatched leftovers?

Should I try not to be bummed?

#theblogismightierthanthesword

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How can my heart not be filled with hope?

Christina was the only black girl in my elementary school.

I didn’t notice that she was the only black girl, I only noticed that she was a nice girl.

So we ran around together at recess – swinging on swings, playing four square and tetherball.

I had no inkling that being friends with her was any different than being friends with anyone else.

Until a holiday gathering at my aunt’s house.

I didn’t hear what my grandma said, but I heard my mom reply, “Julie has a friend who is black.”

As if it were unusual.

As if my small, ordinary friendship with Christina was part of a large debate.

As if it were something for which to be proud?

That overheard, twenty-second interaction between my mom and her mom sowed a seed.

A subtle notion that befriending a black person was a charitable thing to do.

I’m listening to the talks from the MLK50 Conference in Memphis held earlier this month, which marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The one I listened to this morning is excellent:

“How could my heart not be filled with hope?”

I thought about the subtle insidiousness of open-hearted seeds sown benignly that are not benign at all.  

I thought about how impossible it would be to root out every pretty weed that springs from them.

Every pretty weed that looks like it could be a flower.

Impossible if not for Christ.

A friend from my distant past – so distant that he didn’t know I am a Christian and it’s been over 35 years – recently sent me a message.  In it he wrote, “…white Christians are done on this planet…they can flail against the wind all they want…no avail regardless or your politics.”

God’s aim is to restore everything back to the way He created it to be. Acts 3

He’s been setting mankind straight ever since He sent Jesus to show us what He’s really like, what He really cares about.

He’s setting us all straight and He’s started with His own house.

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 1 Peter 4:17

Christians – no matter our color – are not done on this planet, but we are undergoing a transformation.  So I guess it would be accurate to say white Christianity as it currently thinks and acts is done on this planet. And I hope so.

But Christians aren’t done.

And thank God, because if we were, what hope would there be for my message writing old friend?

#bestow

 

 

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