sermon

All In & Humble

When I sit down to write a sermon, I begin by asking God what He wants me to know about Him, and what He wants you to know.

I read the collect – the theme upon which the readings center: Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy.”

“the proud who confide in their own strength”

King Nebuchadnezzar immediately came to mind.  The portion of his story told in Daniel chapter 4 is a perfect example of God resisting man’s pride and of man boasting of God’s mercy.

Nebuchadnezzar, as you might recall, was the king of Babylon.  He was at home in his palace, contented and prosperous.  But he had a bad dream.  The images that passed through his mind terrified him. 

So he summoned all the wise men of Babylon to come interpret it for him.  Magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners came, but they could not explain it. 

Finally, Daniel came.

King Nebuchadnezzar said, “Belteshazzar (aka Daniel), chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. 

These are the visions I saw while lying in bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.

I looked, and there before me was a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven.  He called in a loud voice: ‘Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field.

‘Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him…… so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people.’

That was my dream, Daniel, now tell me what it means, for none of the wise men can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.”

Daniel was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. Neb said, “Do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.” In other words, “Don’t be afraid to tell me.”

Daniel answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies! The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky… Your Majesty, you are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.

“Your Majesty saw a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven. The decree he issued is against you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven for seven years – until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and He gives them to anyone he wishes. The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”

But old habits and old personality disorders die hard.

Twelve months later, as Neb was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”

Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven.

Immediately the terrifying dream was fulfilled. Neb was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.

Seven years later, When Nebuchadnezzar finally raised his eyes toward heaven, his sanity was restored. He praised God, acknowledging that  “His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation.

All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.

Everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy.

Sometimes God’s messages – His reprimands, warnings and promises – are for individuals, as in the case of Neb, and sometimes they are for nations.

It’s important to keep straight what promises are specifically for us and which ones aren’t.  It’s important to keep straight which ones are literal and which ones are metaphorical.

For instance, two weeks ago we heard these words from Isaiah:

“If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong;”

And make your bones strong?” My ears perked up.

You mean all I have to do is stop pointing my finger and my osteoporosis will be healed?  Well Alright!

Except God wasn’t talking to me about my osteoporosis.

He was talking to Israel about the bones of their nation.

No doubt heeding Isaiah’s words will bring me blessings, but God didn’t make me any specific promises about my bone health.

How do I know heeding Isaiah’s words will bring me blessings?

Obedience always brings blessings.

God broke and reshaped Neb into a better, more useful vessel, and He promised to do the same for Israel – allowing them to suffer long years of slavery, wilderness wandering and even captivity if that’s what it took.  And it did.

Which brings us to Deuteronomy 30: After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, Israel was about to finally cross into the promised land.  Moses – who wouldn’t be going with them – announced to all Israel the words which the Lord commanded him, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments I am giving you today by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.”

Thresholds.

Just as I can’t apply Isaiah’s words to the health and strength of my bones, I can’t apply Moses’s words to my personal longevity – plenty of obedient people die young.  Moses died relatively young.  He was only a hundred and twenty years old when he disappeared from the earth. Scripture says his eyes were not yet weak nor was his strength gone when he died. 120 was young back then – Methuselah, for example, lived 969 years.

Moses was talking to the people of Israel and not us when he announced God’s promises, but we can still apply his principles as we stand at our thresholds.

The threshold of a new school, a new school year, a new job or ministry, a new marriage, the threshold of parenthood.

If we obey God, He will bless us as we enter into the new thing He has put before us.

“But,” Moses continued, “if your heart turns away and you are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you (as a nation) shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. 

Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

God wanted Israel to stop and think about the foundation and habits they were going to establish in the land He was giving them.

He wants us, as we stand at our particular thresholds, to consider the path we’re going to take – to choose honesty and integrity, loyalty, fidelity and charity so that we and our children, our spouses, co-workers, classmates, communities may live, loving the Lord, obeying Him, and holding fast to Him; for that means life to us and length of days.

There is a pleasant fiction circulating among some, a theology that says, “It’s all good.”

Our obedience/disobedience doesn’t really matter because God will redeem it all.

In the end, He will.

But, as He spoke through Moses, our choices do make a huge difference while we’re here on earth – a huge difference in our physical, spiritual, emotional and mental health.

The words He gave the writer of Psalm 1 concur:

“Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful! Their delight is in the law of the Lord, and they meditate on his law day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper.”

Often I have prayed those words for my daughter, and now for her husband and his family, too – planted by streams of living water, with roots of faith that are deep and wide, that everything they do shall prosper.

“It is not so with the wicked; they are like chaff which the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, nor the sinner in the council of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked is doomed.”

Our obedience, our love for God makes a difference.

Even Jesus used “ifs” and “thens.”

John 15:5 “If you remain in me and I in you, then you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 14:23 “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

I can’t think of anything better than the Father, Son and Holy Spirit making their home with me.

There’s a cause and effect. 

And a cost.

Luke 14:25-33

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and He turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…

…You must first sit down and count the cost, figure out whether you have what it takes to go the distance…

“…none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

Our lectionary reading stops just short of the end of the chapter. Here’s what it left out:

“Salt is good,” Jesus continued, “but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

I googled, “How does salt lose its saltiness.”  I figured it’s important to know since Jesus warned against it.

Water.  It loses its saltiness when it is diluted in water.

Why did Jesus add that last bit?

Large crowds were following Him, marveling in His miracles, enjoying free bread and fish, talking about how great it is – you don’t have to do anything except show up at mealtimes and reap the benefits.

I imagine some in the crowd were promulgating a pleasant fiction that threatened to water down His gospel, take the tang right out of it.

So He set them straight.

Discipleship isn’t a free lunch, He explained.  It will cost you something.  Your behavior, your choices, your obedience and your disobedience will matter.

He wants us all in.  

Listen to this: Recorded in John 6,  Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will lift them up at the last day.”

On hearing it, many of His disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.

I always strikes me that He didn’t run after them!  

He didn’t run after them to sugar-coat His message, make it more palatable, water it down to woo them back.

Instead He turned to the twelve who were all in (well, eleven who were all in because Judas) and asked, “You don’t want to leave too, do you?”

Simon Peter answered, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

What about that hating your parents stuff?

Don’t do it.  Jesus was not being literal.

Hating your parents does not line up with the fifth commandment.

It doesn’t line up with what  Jesus said about loving one another.

But it does line up with what He said about money.

The love of money is the root of all evil.  Not money itself, the love of money.

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

God doesn’t want us to hate money – He rewarded Solomon with a ton of it.  He gave a ton of it to His friend, Abraham, too.

And He doesn’t want us to hate our people.

It’s a matter of loyalty.

A matter of who/what you love more.

Following Jesus would have meant huge familial sacrifices back then.

Think about it.  Everyone who was anyone followed the Law.  To follow Jesus would have been treasonous.

It would be like a Catholic child leaving her parish to become a Protestant.

A former co-worker, who is a Messianic Jew, told me she knows many people who secretly believe Jesus is the Messiah but would never say so publicly or set foot in a church because they don’t want to lose their Jewish community.

For me, following Jesus might mean giving up weekly worship with my daughter and wonderful new son in law.

It might mean giving up the pleasure of preaching an occasional sermon.

Jesus said, [I’m paraphrasing] “If you’re going to follow me it’s going to cost you.”

But let’s do it anyway.

Because there is nothing as soul-satisfying as being His disciple. As having Him make His home with us.

Amen.

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faith, the friends

Doxology

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

If you know anything about Dixie, you know that she was diagnosed with colon cancer in February.

If you don’t know anything about her, it’s time to catch up:

There is no remedy for love but to love more.

We’re Not Just Whistling Dixie

One minute you’re getting your face bit off and the next minute you’re living in Hintzville.

Is this my new calling? ‘Cuz I’m gonna’ need superhuman strength.

Big Love & Fruit that Lasts

Stuck in the Kitchen Again…

McDonald’s has its pink slime, I have purple.

When I last wrote about my friend, I was cooking like her life depended on it.

And wondering whether she would be incontinent forever.

But then the blessings began to flow on two creatures here below.

On a little beagle and me.

Dixie is now pooping like a champ – well, almost like a champ. And that is a huge blessing right there.

But there’s more.

Wednesday morning I took her for the 4th of 6 chemo treatments – each 3 weeks apart.  As per the protocol, her oncologist did an ultrasound and some chest x-rays prior to the treatment to make sure the treatments have been working.  If not, he’d switch to something else.

The ultrasound results?

There is no sign of recurrence in her bowels or lymph nodes – lymph nodes are all of normal size.

The doc said a radiologist would look at her chest x-rays to confirm but he saw nothing obvious on them.

So he proceeded with injection number four.

And then yesterday his assistant called with the radiologist’s findings:

Her lungs are completely clear!

Good food, exercise and chemo are keeping the cancer at bay.

And Love. Lots of Love.

Love is healing her.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow…

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Stopping to smell the roses after this morning’s happy walk.

She’ll get the final two injections and then she’ll be monitored from there.

Hopefully for many happy, healthy years to come…

#grateful #hopeful

 

 

 

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life

Doubly Blessed

 

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My daughter snapped a picture of her graduation cake before we headed to the ceremony. She posted it on Instagram and immediately got tons of likes and an occasional, “I don’t know if I should laugh or cringe.”

“Laugh!,” she replied, “it’s hilarious.”

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“It’s not every day you get hooded,” she said.

And she was right. It was a special day.  Seeing the procession of hooded faculty entering the arena and then watching my daughter exit wearing a hood of her own.

I felt grateful all day.

“Do you feel more important now?,” I asked on the way to the restaurant.

“Not more important,” she replied, “just more accomplished.”

Good distinction.

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Celebratory dinner at The Common Grill. So delicious.

This morning I said, “I get why being hooded yesterday felt special. It’s kind of like you’ve entered the realm of sages, like you’re Obe Wan Kenobe.”

So my daughter is now a Jedi Warrior therapist who will begin her brand new job at 6:00 tomorrow morning.

This morning she got up early to run an errand.

When she returned she presented me with a Mother’s Day card and a beautiful bouquet of flowers.

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I handed it right back to her.

“I didn’t get you flowers yesterday so these are for you.”

“We’ll both enjoy them then,” she said, as she put them in a vase.

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Happy Mother’s Day to me!

Happy Mother’s day to you!

 

 

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the friends

Rambunctious, Gorgeous & Free

As you know from my last post, my family and I are shopping for free and inexpensive Christmas spirit.

Saturday it was a big screen showing of White Christmas, where magic was in the air.

Sunday afternoon my daughter and I walked through a lovely Christmas market.

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Is it just me, or do the trees look like sparkling martini glasses? Though this is a photo of the market at night, we were there in the sunshine.

After dinner my daughter dressed the friends in sweaters and we all – the hub, my daughter, the friends and I – piled into the car, turned the radio to a Christmas music station and drove 20 miles to a drive-through live nativity.

The plan was a quick drive out there, a quick drive through the nativity and home in an hour. But when we crested the hill, we saw a line-up of headlights that looked over an hour long. We thought about aborting our mission, but we got in line instead.

The hour-and-a-half wait was a little hard on the beagle (the hound dog sat patiently in his seat like a good boy), but the program was well done and she was gifted with a dog biscuit by the people who were handing out free HOT (thank you) chocolate and cookies. The beagle tried-to-climb-out-the-window-LOVED the scene that included children and goats. Wish I had snapped a picture of the precious little boy who waved to her, but I was too busy wrestling 20 pounds of tail-wagging enthusiasm.

It was a memorable and completely free family outing – except for the donation, which was freely given.

Last week I was invited, sans family, to two beautiful Christmas events. First, Advent by Candlelight in a stunning setting.

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In a beautiful room filled with gorgeous tables.

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I arrived a little early in order to get a good parking space because my date uses a walker.

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My date: a little blurry, but beautiful inside and out.

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Our lovely hostess was still putting the finishing touches on her table when we arrived.

That gorgeous and soul-warming event was followed the next day by Christmas Tea at a very lovely country club.

I might have snapped a few photos of the posh beauty there, too, had I not been leery of embarrassing my hostess with a faux pas.

Tonight I’ll teach a final lesson before Christmas break and then there will be time to create some beauty right here at home. Lights and ornaments on the tree that is standing here bare and smelling wonderful.

And then it’s cookies to bake and brittles to make…presents to wrap, cocoa to drink and sappy Hallmark-Christmas-movies-that-always-end with-a-kiss to watch.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

P.S. If anyone has a brilliant suggestion for this weekend’s free or nearly free, I’d love to hear them. Christmas concerts at church are already on the list.

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life

It’s the Little Things

The wind has died down, the sun has finally come out and the hub has gone fishing.  But before he left he read to me.  From the Bible.

“Read some of Jesus’ words,” I said.  “I’ve heard enough from Paul.  Not that he didn’t have some good things to say, but he’s not God.”

You all know how I feel about that.

Anyway, with me still on crutches, that was our church today.

And then the hub hightailed it to the lake, leaving me here on the sofa, with a beagle snoring gently beside me, continuing worship by recalling some of the things for which I was grateful this week.

On Tuesday my cleaning lady came.  (Don’t judge me, she only comes EVERY OTHER week.)  She is a huge Slurpee fan and she often tells me about her latest favorite flavor.  This time it was Vernors.  I am not a Slurpee fan – brain freeze – but, what proper Detroit girl doesn’t love Vernors?

As she was leaving, she mentioned that she might stop for a Vernors Slurpee on her way home.

“Hey,” I said, “why don’t you stop at the 7-11 here, near me?  That way, if they have Vernors today, you can text me and  I’ll have the hub stop and get me one on his way home.”

Her eyes brightened and her mouth formed a smile.  She was clearly pleased and heartily agreed to do so.

About ten minutes later the garage door opened.

What’s the hub doing home so soon?

It wasn’t the hub, it was Becky.  Bearing a gift.

Yes, that's a Christmas coaster in June.

Yes, that’s a Christmas coaster in June.

Thanks God, for the little kindnesses that make life wonderful.

P.S.  My brain only froze once.  So that was good.   Momentarily very painful, but good.

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life

Gratifood

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Chilean Sea Bass with Cilantro Beurre Blanc (the silkiest, most delicious beurre blanc I’ve ever had – oh my, oh my), and Pico de Gallo. Oh yes, please.

They say our moods mellow with age.  I would add that the spiciness we enjoy in our foods does, too.  When I was young I liked it the hotter the better, with absolutely no repercussions the next day.

Beggar’s Banquet was a favorite in my college’s town.  They rated each day’s batch of chili according to the number of beers you would need to finish a bowl.  I think they called beer “sympathy for the devil.”  In my case sympathy was pepsi because I’ve never liked beer.  If they had served milk, I might have had that.  Because milk coats and fireproofs the tongue. But more likely I would have considered milk the drink of amateurs.

Now that I am gracefully mellowed, I no longer like my food hot and wild.  Nowadays I like it intelligently spiced:  A subtle kick; a slight warm heat at the very back of my tongue and palate; a perfect balance of flavors – of sweet and heat, warm and cool.

Palates, like people become more sophisticated as they age.  They appreciate the beauty and nuances of subtlety and balance.  And if they’ve been cooking all those mellowing years, they’ve been learning how to achieve it.

Today’s list of the gifts for which I am grateful is all about the food God has given us:  the variety of colors and flavor combinations; culinary artists who know how to extract amazing flavors and inspire us to do the same; flavors that burst in our mouths; stunning presentations of plates and platters.

You, God, could have made the nourishment of our bodies bland – mere utility eating.  But You didn’t, You made it glorious.  Like You.  Thank you.

Taste and see that the Lord is Good.

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faith

I Kinda’ Think My Heart Has Been Blessed.

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Paul Woods, Creative Commons

Movies about Jesus almost always portray Him sitting on the side of a mountain, surrounded by a listening crowd, quietly delivering His epic sermon in a monotone voice.  But that’s not the way my Bible reads.

“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down.  His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.”  Matthew 5:1-2 NIV

He went up on a mountainside.  He, not the crowds.  His disciples came and joined Him, not the crowds.  He began to teach them – His disciples, the subject of the sentence to whom the pronoun refers – not the crowds.

Jesus looked down at the dappled crowds – broken, mourning hearts here; meek spirits there; the pure-hearted and the peacemakers mingled with the persecuted and the poor – and He called them all blessed.

He wasn’t talking to the crowd, He was talking about the crowd.  He was giving His disciples a glimpse of His perspective on the people who were following them.  Most of them were needy and all of them were blessed.  Blessed because things were about to change.

Jesus wasn’t teaching crowds of people that if they did this or that they would be blessed with this or that.  He was teaching His disciples that the crowds were already blessed.  Blessed because He had plans and rewards they knew nothing about.

I wonder whether there was excitement in His voice as He swept His arm slowly above the crowds of followers below and declared them blessed.

“Look at them!  They are about to inherit heaven, and they have no idea.”

One of the things I love about God is that He always lets at least one person in on what He is going to do.  Sometimes it is hundreds of years before He does it, sometimes it is immediately before, but He always tells someone.

“For the LORD detests the perverse but takes the upright into His confidence.”  Proverbs 3:32

He takes the upright into His confidence!  I love, love, love that!  That day, on that mountainside, Jesus took His disciples into His confidence.

Some might think, “Who cares whether Jesus was talking to the crowd or about them?”  I care.  For one thing, Jesus deserves to have His story told accurately, and for another, I love the thought that He talks not only to me, but also about me:

“Look at that precious one, doing the best she can with her feeble faith; hungering and thirsting to understand what I really mean.  She has no idea how blessed she is.”

Then He turned to His disciples and said, you are blessed, too.  When people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me, you will be fine.  You will be more than fine because you are going to have a reward in heaven.  A really good reward.  A really good eternal reward.  All hardship and evil nonsense is temporary.

All of us who follow Jesus – the weak, the strong, the persecuted, those whose faith is old, those whose faith is new, the rich, the poor, the mourning and the dancing – we will all be fine.

This post was inspired by one I read yesterday, and especially by the author’s reply to my comment:  “I kinda’ think my heart has been blessed.”

Have a wonderful day.

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faith, life, restoration, Stories from the Island

Crossing the Water

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I was planning to tell you about June today.  But then my daughter shared her blog post with me, and she did a wonderful job of introducing Brenda.  So Brenda it is.  I would love to just reblog her post except that it would give away my identity.

So, with her permission, I am pasting it here, minus any identifying information:

Shelby and Lesley and I weren’t the only ones on the island this past weekend. We brought women with us. Women who deserved to be blessed. Women who needed to know how God felt about them and who He created them to be. Women who had stories to tell, stories that would allow us to learn from each other.

We brought former prostitutes and addicts. We brought women who used to work the streets, and women who currently go out and minister to those who still do.

Really, my mom brought them. She planned the whole retreat and listened when God told her who to invite. Perhaps I don’t know all the factors that were taken into consideration when she chose the hotel on the island as our location, but I don’t think any of us thought about the significance of crossing over water to get to an island until Brenda did.

Brenda was one of the women who came with us. When she shared her story last night, we found out she had been gang-raped at the age of fourteen, an incident that propelled her into prostitution, promiscuity, and drug use until she eventually surrendered her life to Jesus.

During introductions on the first morning Brenda said “I know that God brought us across the water to cleanse us from everything that happened over there. When we go back, it’s going to be over.”

I got chills. And I am just so thankful for everything that this weekend was, and a God who brings His children across the water.

Amen.

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faith, life, restoration, Stories from the Island

Surprised By Joy

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I guess I expected them to arrive somewhat weary and heavy-laden, downtrodden and in need of rest. Instead they were lively and strong.  Pure joy entered the welcome reception on Friday night as each woman looked me in the eye, introduced herself and shook my hand.  All except one.  One offered only her fingertips and looked me over with suspicious eyes.  “I’m not here to judge,” is what I thought.  “Welcome!” is what I said.

The women helped themselves to a spread of cheese and crackers, sliced melons, grapes, pineapple, assorted veggies and assorted dips, smoked whitefish with a beautiful array of fancy toppings and a variety of lemonades and punches.  It was just right.  Polite, jovial conversation centered around the freshness, sweetness, deliciousness of the food.

Then my daughter entered with goody bags, one for each woman, personalized with her name on it.  A handshake would no longer do.  One got up and gave me a big hug.  “Ohhh, I like hugs,” I exclaimed.  That brought several more to their feet to give hugs.  One massaged my shoulders when I mentioned that her hug felt good against my achy back.  It was going to be a good weekend.

After the reception the chicks and I walked to town for pizza while the hens stayed back to talk.  While we were gone Margaret, the one who greeted me with caution, had a seizure.  She has brain cancer and in all the excitement of the trip she forgot to take her medicine.

Over lunch on Saturday Margaret told me that she is blessed.  She had heard of the Island and had seen it on tv, but she never thought she would actually get to visit.  She told me her story – about how she became acquainted with the other women through rehab.  About how someone slipped her a drug when she was a young teen and she was hooked right off the bat.  She loved the way the burn moved through her body.  She loved the effect it had on her brain.  Some people don’t like that effect, she said, but she did.  She was proud to report that she never sold her body for drugs.  She sold things.  Things that she had stolen from Home Depot or Lowes.  Her father was a sheriff in the Chicago area so she got away with a lot as a teen.  But eventually she caught a bus to a new town so that her family wouldn’t know how addicted she was.  She left children behind.

But now she is blessed.  Blessed because she is clean.  Blessed because she and her boyfriend live in a loft – something that has always been on her bucket list.  Blessed because today she was on the Island.  Blessed because her children were cared for by someone who assured them that it wasn’t them, it was the drugs.  Blessed because she has been recently reunited with her children and they have forgiven her – have always forgiven her.

Margaret said that through it all she was aware of God’s love for her.  She would often talk to Him in the drug house, to the chagrin of the other visitors.  One day she told the drug man that she was  done.  She was going to get back with God.  Surprisingly, he directed her to a Christian rehab facility.

As I got to know the women, heard their stories and marveled at their joy, I began to really understand what Jesus meant:

When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.  A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.  As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Church, as I have known it for too many years, has been mostly a gathering of Pharisees.  Oh how I long for the fellowship of those who love much.

It was such a sweet weekend.  June, who you’ll meet next, kept flying “first annual” up the flagpole hoping I would salute.  First annual it is.  If my little ministry could afford it, it would be first semiannual.  I love those women.

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faith, life

Perspective & Percentages

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My small non-profit was given a large grant.  Everyone says it is a blessing, and it is, but it is also a burden.  A heavy burden.  It is a huge responsibility to spend it wisely and well.  That is why so much disappointment oozed into yesterday’s post.

I was disappointed because we did not capture the stories of the women we invited with cinematic greatness.  Stories that could have reached beyond the confines of time and space to bless and warn and heal others.

But the mission was not just about the stories, it was also about blessing the storytellers.  In planning the retreat I had given equal weight to blessing the women with a special weekend and to capturing their stories.  But God weighted it differently.  His mission was much more about blessing the women, and even the videographer, with a memorable experience.  To Him it was all about blessing the now.

Maybe it’s because I have been sick and achy and weak since I’ve been home, maybe it’s because my expectations are always high, but I was looking at the trip as a 50% failure.

But today my daughter reminded me why we decided to hold the retreat: On that day she said “No one else is doing this.  No one is blessing these women in this way.  I think we should do it.”  So we did.  Today she said, “How many people have the means to bless these women the way we did?”  When I look at it that way, the mission was a 100% success.

We set out to bless them and they were blessed.  We wanted them to come and enjoy and they did!  They enjoyed themselves and the island and the fabulous hotel and the food 100%.  There was not a single complaint about the damp, chilly weather.  Just joy.

We wanted them to be open to learning, and they were.  They were very willing to learn and to share.  They shared stories that I never would have guessed would come from their strong, joyful mouths.

Our guests did not let me down at all.

My disappointed perspective had me feeling I had wasted the ministry’s money by inviting “helpers” who did not seem to add anything of value, who seemed to just be along for the luxurious ride.  But I am going to let go of that and trust that God did things in those people that I know nothing about.  Too much prayer went into the planning to believe otherwise.

I was thinking I had to leverage the event to reach many in order to justify using the grant money.  But God will leverage it in ways I cannot even image.  Monday morning I ran into June.  Bright, beautiful, joyful, sunny June.  She was leaving the dining room as I was going in.  She gave me a big, warm, generous good-bye hug and said, “I am going home to retrain my daughters.  I taught them wrong and now I am going to teach them right.”  Seeds were planted and they will grow.  Look what Jesus did with His twelve.

I made some rookie mistakes in the execution of our first annual retreat, but I’ve made note of them.  Next year will be better.

In the meantime, videos or not, I’ve got stories of redemption to tell.

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