Jesus

We are both poor.

I was in the bullpen Sunday, the provisional preacher in case the one who was scheduled was called away at the last minute.

So I prepared a back-up sermon, went to bed early with a horrible headache and woke Sunday morning with the pain still raging.  I took a maximum strength Sudafed, put a heating pad on my face and prayed the preacher would show.

He did, thank you Jesus.

I sat gratefully and gingerly in one of the back pews – careful not to move my head too much, the pain just barely masked and threatening to break through full force at the slightest wrong move – and listened to plan A’s take on the passage, which went in a completely different direction from mine.

While sipping coffee in fellowship hall a woman asked whether I would give my sermon another time.  “Probably not,” I said, “since the lectionary will have moved on to a new passage.”

But wait a minute, I can give my sermon another time. I can give it to you right now. I can turn my tentative sermon into a definite blog post. Lest it go to waste.

The gospel reading was from Matthew:

Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”  – Matthew 18:21-35

“Forgiveness,” our pastor said the previous Sunday, “is the hardest thing Jesus asks us to do.”

I pondered why that is and came up with a few possibilities:

1. We don’t understand how it works.

Josh McDowell explains it best:

“… let’s say my daughter breaks a lamp in my home. I’m a loving and forgiving father, so I put her on my lap, and I hug her and I say, “Don’t cry, honey. Daddy loves you and forgives you.” Now usually the person I tell that story to says, “Well, that’s what God ought to do.” Then I ask the question, “Who pays for the lamp?”  (More Than a Carpenter p.156)

Who pays for the lamp? It’s such a brilliant question. It completely redirects our skewed thinking.

I’ll forgive him/her/them after they’ve suffered enough, is what we think. After I have exacted enough payment. After they are sufficiently sorry for what they’ve done.

That thinking completely misses the point.

It is the forgiver who pays for the lamp, not the offender.  That is what makes forgiveness so hard, that is what makes it so great – the innocent party pays!

Forgiveness says, “I’ll pay for that.”

“I’ll pay for that, too.”

“And for that, and that, and that.”

Seventy-seven times.

Which brings us to what makes it so hard #2.

2. We haven’t really looked at the price-tag.

I can’t afford to pay for all those lamps, we think, I’m not rich (financially, spiritually, emotionally). I can’t absorb all that cost.

And that brings us to our parable.

The first guy – the really rich guy – forgave a huge debt because he could easily afford to do so.

But the guy who was forgiven wasn’t rich.  So he harshly demanded payment from some guy who was as not-rich as he was.

And that’s what we do. We flippantly accept God’s forgiveness because we think He can easily absorb the cost. We think that all of our many, many lamps combined are a mere drop in His vast ocean.

We think our sins against God are like pilfering pencils from the supply room of Ford Motor Company, but when someone sins against us they are taking food from the mouths of our babes.

We think this way because we haven’t taken a good look at the price-tag.

We parrot a phrase that never really made sense to me: “All sin is the same.”

But all sin is not the same – my little white lie told to spare someone’s feelings is not the same as a mass act of terrorism.

All sin is not the same but all sin does carry the same price tag.

“For the wages of sin is death.” – Romans

“Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” – Hebrews

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No matter how small or insignificant we deem them to be, our broken lamps all carry the same huge price tag, which is not as easily absorbed as we like to think.

I sometimes picture God readily handing out volumes of forgiveness vouchers to each of us when, in fact, He handed out One voucher to all of us. And we only come face to face with the itemized invoice once a year on Good Friday.

Okay, you might be thinking (if you’re like me) it wasn’t easy for God to pay for our lamps, but…

3. If I give my heart to you, I’ll have none and you’ll have two.

Why should the offender keep getting away with it?  Why should I keep having to pay for the carelessness of others?

Because God did/does.

“Be holy because I am holy.”

And look what paying for our lamps got Jesus – a seat with the Father in glory.

You won’t be left with nothing, while the perp has two.

It may seem like the story I’m about to tell has nothing to do with this principle, but it does.

When I was in high school, I dated a basketball player.  He was a starter on the varsity team as a mere 10th grader. I went to a huge high school so that was a really big deal – it’s not like we were desperate for players.

I had been dating this player for a year when the seniors on the team started to tease him about not having sex, so he started to pressure me.

I said, “No, we’re too young.”

I should have said, “No, we’re not married,” because sex is a matter of marital status, not age, but I didn’t know anything back then.

Anyway, I kept saying no so he dumped me.

He immediately started dating a girl who had had a crush on him for a looong time. She was more than willing to do whatever she needed to do.

And she did.

And as soon as she did, he lost respect and dumped her.

So, we both got dumped – me for saying no and her for saying yes.

But I still had my self respect, the respect of my friends, my virginity and apparently the respect of the b’ball player.

Because he wanted me back.

No, thank you.

So don’t worry that the lamp breakers are going to get away with it, or get ahead of you financially, emotionally, et ceterally.

Just say, “Yes, I’ll pay for that.”

“And for that and that and that.”

And enjoy your self-respect.

And the camaraderie and esteem of the One who sits contentedly on the throne.

The parable Jesus told was in response to Peter’s question about forgiving another member of the church.

But those outside the church have issues with forgiveness, too.

I know someone who suffered a lot in her youth. I don’t know how much, exactly. I don’t know if it was much more or less than anyone else. But to her it was a lot.

So she has the idea that she has already pre-paid for any sins she might commit. She took it.  She took it all without complaint for all those years and God owes her.

She doesn’t need His forgiveness, He needs hers.

I guess this falls under not getting a good look at the price-tag.

She may have paid for the lamps of others with her innocent little girl heart and soul, but she didn’t shed innocent blood on a horrific cross.

And it also falls under not understanding how forgiveness works.

You can’t pre-pay for your own sins because with forgiveness, the innocent party pays and you are not the innocent party.

That is what makes forgiveness so powerful.  Perhaps it’s why Jesus tied it to love.

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.”  Luke 7:44-47.

Love says, I’ll pay for yours because He paid for mine.

And we are both poor.

#tentative

 

 

 

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Cold Calling Jesus

We did a year’s worth of catching up over breakfast last week, my wonderful friend and I, while she was in Michigan for a brief visit.

“It’s been kind of a tough year,” she said, as we placed our orders.

Her son-in-law had been caught in an affair and her daughter, of course, booted him.

He then ended the affair, sought counseling and joined an accountability group.

Hurt, disgusted and betrayed though they were, the family decided to go the rocky route of redemption.

Because redemption is what Jesus is all about.

So the father of my friend’s young grandchildren was welcomed back home – welcomed into the guestroom, that is.

Until trust is rebuilt.

Later our conversation turned to other things.  I mentioned that I had seen the series of Facebook posts she had written on the Ten Commandments.

“I see people all the time who need Jesus,” she explained, “but I never know how to broach the subject. So I thought I would try sharing Him through Facebook posts. Not that I’m Facebook friends with any of them.”

There’s the rub.

The pulpit puts a lot of pressure on evangelicals to tell others about Jesus.

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Photo courtesy of Kenneth Tanner*

But cold calling Jesus doesn’t get many sales.

Think about it.  When was the last time someone cold-called while you were making dinner and you bought what they were selling right there over the phone or through your storm door?

Me? Never. I just get annoyed.

When did someone start telling you about Buddha out of the blue because they noticed you could use his philosophies and you immediately converted from Christianity to Buddhism?

Probably never.

You probably just smiled and nodded and said, “If Buddha works for you….”

Jesus didn’t tell us to cold call.  He didn’t even tell us to tell others about Him exactly.

He told us to teach others what He taught us.

After breakfast we went for a short walk along the lake and then drove back to my house just in time for her to hurry off to a lunch date.

As we were getting out of my car I said, “You know, friend, you actually tell people about Jesus all the time. Your whole life tells people about Him (it really does). You just told whoever was eavesdropping at the restaurant that loving Jesus means choosing forgiveness and working toward redemption. Who knows? Perhaps someone in the next booth is struggling with that very thing.”

Jesus came to show us what His Father is like.

His whole life on earth was a show and tell.

Ours can be, too, my evangelical friends.

We can fulfill the great commission by just living our lives. Just living our lives showing what the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are like. We can do the easy stuff – pass out some bread, pass out some fish, lend a helping hand, speak a few words of wisdom – and we can do the hard stuff – forgive, sacrifice our broken and betrayed hearts to the cause of redemption.

And one fine day we might earn the right to actually speak.

“And if you should lead out the esteemed from the unworthy you will be as my mouth.”  -LXX
“…if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman [woman].”  NIV

 

*Who was not out on a cold call when he buckled Jesus into his passenger seat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Those Things That Are Right

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Sunday we asked God to grant us the spirit to think and do always those things that are right. Our Old Testament Scripture reading gave us the example of Joseph.

You’ve likely heard Joseph portrayed as a braggart and a tattle tale, perhaps in an effort to explain his brothers’ jealousy.  Perhaps some teach him that way in an effort to justify their own jealous tendencies.

Some say Joseph bragged about his dreams.

But Scripture doesn’t say he bragged about them, it merely states that he reported them. And just because your brothers are jealous doesn’t mean you made them jealous.

Remember Cain? He was so jealous of his brother, Abel, that he entertained murderous thoughts.

God found Cain stewing in his anger and asked, “What’s your problem? If you do what is right, I’ll bless you, too.  Sin is crouching at your door, don’t answer it.”

But he did answer it. When given the choice between yielding his heart, mind and behavior to God and being blessed, or stubbornly holding onto his anger, he took the anger and killed his brother.  Abel wasn’t killed because made Cain jealous.  Abel was killed because Cain wanted to do what he wanted to do and be blessed anyway. And he hated that God doesn’t work that way.

The assumptions we make about how Joseph reported his dreams are shaded by the bits of our personality we project onto him. When I read the account of his dreams, I don’t imagine Joseph bragging at all.

What do you do when you have a really wild, vivid dream? Do you report it to whoever is at the breakfast table?

I think that’s what Joseph was doing, just reporting a couple of weird, amazing dreams and naively believing his family would be amazed by them, too.

What about Joseph as a tattle tale?

There appeared to be just cause right there in our bulletin: “Joseph brought an ill report of them to their father.”

That’s how all the modern translations I’ve consulted tell it. But the Septuagint – the original translation of the OT from Hebrew and Aramaic into Greek – tells a different story.

The Septuagint says it was the brothers who brought a bad report against Joseph. They were the tattlers. The exact wording: “And they brought against Joseph a bad fault to Israel, their father.”

“But,” Scripture continues, [in spite of the bad report] “Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age.” No reason other than he was born in his old age.

I keep hearing from friends who are becoming grandparents that grandkids are so much more enjoyable than kids. Perhaps because you can relax and enjoy children more when you are no longer striving for all the things for which youth strives.

In addition, Joseph as a braggart and snitch isn’t congruent with the character he displayed during the rest of his life.

Joseph was seventeen when his dad sent him to Shechem to check on the health and safety of his brothers. Some 17-year-olds would say, “No way! I’m not going. They hate me!” But not Joseph. He said. “Okay, (Septuagint: I’m ready).”

Being hated by your siblings is a long, lonely road to walk, and Joseph walked it, all the way to Shechem.

When he finally arrived his brothers weren’t there. At that point, some teenagers would shrug their shoulders, return home and say, “They weren’t there.” But not Joseph, he went the extra mile – the extra 20 or 30 miles to be more accurate – to Dothan.

That’s what always doing the right thing looks like – going the extra mile, even when you’re hated. Even when you’re really tired of being hated.

The rest of Joseph’s story reminds me of a book from my childhood. Remember it? The one with the guy in a parachute on the cover?: “Fortunately Ned was invited to a surprise party…” “Unfortunately the party was 1,000 miles away.”

Unfortunately going the extra mile got Joseph sold into slavery.
Fortunately “The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered and the Lord gave him success in everything he did.”

That phrase recurs several times throughout Joseph’s story. “The Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in everything he did…” Perhaps that is the key to always doing what’s right. Having the Lord with you, talking you through it.

But what came first, the chicken or the egg? Did Joseph always do what was right because the Lord was with him or was the Lord with him because he always did what was right?

Scripture tells us that God chose David to be the second King of Israel, because, as he said to Samuel, “He will do whatever I tell him to do.” Perhaps God chose Joseph because he was the same sort of man – one who could be counted on to do the right thing – to yield his heart, mind, and attitude to God.

So Joseph found favor in his master’s eyes and became his trusted attendant. But either Joseph was really hot or Mrs. Potiphar was really horny, either way, she pursued him relentlessly and when he wouldn’t acquiesce to her request, she accused him of rape and he wound up in prison.

Some people would be angry and bitter about now. But not Joseph. How do I know he wasn’t bitter and angry? He reached out to others, even in his own need.

The Lord was with Joseph in prison and Joseph was put in charge of all the other prisoners. One morning he noticed a couple of the new guys looking dejected. He sat down and asked them what was wrong. They had both had disturbing dreams the night before. Joseph said, “I’m pretty good with dreams, let’s hear ‘em.” After hearing the dreams he told the first guy that his dream meant he would be restored to his position as cupbearer to the king within three days. The cupbearer was thrilled and relieved. Joseph said, “When you get out of here mention to Pharaoh that I don’t belong here.” The cupbearer said he would.

But, he didn’t and Joseph languished in prison another two years.

Two more years of faithfully performing the duties placed in front of him. Two more years with his dreams on hold.

You can dwell on all the bad things that have happened to you – sold into slavery when you were just trying to help; exercising sexual integrity and being falsely accused anyway; helping someone who doesn’t help you back. You can rehearse all the injustices and conclude that God doesn’t care, or you can look for all the ways He helped you in the midst of it all and be grateful.

You know the rest of the story. Pharaoh had a dream that no one understood, the cupbearer finally remembered Joseph, Joseph interpreted the dream and even offered a brilliant plan to deal with the impending famine. He was made second in command of all of Egypt, was reunited with his dad, wrestled with prospect of reconciling with his brothers and in the end did the right thing.

And, if you know the whole story, Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, were greatly blessed.

What lessons can we glean about always doing right as we watch Joseph’s life unfurl?

  • Go the extra mile, even when people hate you. Be good for goodness’ sake.
  • Do your job well, even when you thought sheaves were going to bow down to you and you’re someone’s slave instead; give it your all even when you thought your life was going to be greater than it’s turning out to be.
  •  Take a compassionate interest in others, help them even in the midst of your own need.
  • Let God be with you, even when you are languishing for two more years. Let Him still be with you. Listen to Him, yield your heart and attitude and thoughts to Him.
  • Consistently do the right thing and your children will be blessed with a great legacy.
  • Trust that what the haters mean for evil God means for good. God always means for our good.

In order to trust you have to think right.

Which brings us to Sunday’s gospel reading (from Matthew 14).

Mark and John gave a slightly different account, but Matthew told us that Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side of the lake.

He made them get into the boat. That’s an important detail.

After He dismissed the crowds, He went up the mountain by Himself to pray.

By the time He finished praying, the boat was quite far from land. The disciples had been battling wind and waves all night and they were probably exhausted by the time Jesus caught up with them. So when they saw Him approach – walking on the sea – they were terrified. Not because the waves were battering their boat – some of them were seasoned fisherman, they knew how to handle wind and waves. They were terrified because they thought they saw a ghost.

How do you think right when you’ve been up all night battling strong winds and now you think you see a ghost?

You look at the facts:
Fact 1: Jesus made us get in the boat. It wasn’t our idea.
Fact 2: Jesus sent us to the other side of the lake. He didn’t, as Beth Moore so brilliantly pointed out, send us to the bottom of the lake.

Conclusion: So what if it’s a ghost? The second Jesus sent us ahead to the other side of the lake our arrival was guaranteed.

Same right thinking applies when you are Peter, endeavoring to do what only God can do.

What God invited you to do.

Peter got out of the boat and started walking toward Him. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened and began to sink.

Peter had complete confidence in Jesus’s invitation until he saw the strong winds.

Reminds me of the first time I water skied: I grabbed the rope, the boat pulled me right up and I was skiing and having a really good time slipping in and out of the wake. And then it occurred to me that I shouldn’t be doing so well on my very first attempt, and with that thought I let go of the rope.

People can’t walk on water.

But when Jesus is the One doing the inviting, we can. So what if the wind is strong? His will is stronger. When He invites you to “Come,” He will get you there.

Or do you think He plays cruel tricks? Invites us and then lets us sink or swim?

When my first husband left me I spent many moons in a battered boat trying desperately to figure out what I had done to deserve abandonment. I rowed hard against a sea of accusations because Job wasn’t the only one who had bad friends. I evaluated my imperfections against the, in some cases, greater imperfections of my non-abandoned friends trying to make sense of it all. I felt like my life was doomed.

And then God climbed into the boat and reminded me of the facts.

He reminded me of that Sunday morning in April when I was getting ready for church, I was being baptized that day. And as I zipped myself into my floral dress, a thought floated through the air, “He’s going to propose today.”

He, I figured, was my boyfriend, who was also being baptized that morning. We had only been dating 4 months and we hadn’t talked at all about marriage so I just let the thought float right on by. I finished dressing and then practiced the Scripture verse I had chosen to recite before the dunking.

And sure enough, sitting on a sofa together in the pastor’s office – dry clothes back on, hair dried – waiting for the rest of the service to end, he did indeed propose.

And there were the facts: God knew that the marriage would end even as He floated that thought to me on that April morning. Perhaps that’s why He whispered it, So I’d remember that He was well aware that I was getting into the boat.

And even though He knew it wasn’t seaworthy, He didn’t try to stop me. He loves me and He didn’t try to stop me.

It’s not like I was rebelliously getting into a lemon of a boat. He was a christian, I was a Christian, his parents were happily married. I did my due diligence.

I hadn’t made a fatal mistake. I hadn’t married outside of His will. I wasn’t doomed. God knew and He allowed. He loved me and He still allowed. And if me getting into what He knew would turn out to be an unreliable boat was okay with Him, then from now on, it would be okay with me. I still couldn’t say the d word but I would trust that God meant it for good.

Praise God for always meaning it for good,
for speaking truth to our battered souls,
for taking the oars from our flailing hands,
for urging us on as we walk the lonely road,
for directing our thoughts as we languish for two more years.

Praise God for giving us the spirit to think right and do always those things that are right, even when life is habitually hard, that we, who cannot exist without Him, may be enabled to live according to His will.

Amen.

#unfurl

 

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Stick with me, honey, I’m a genius.

Conversation on the way home from church:

The Hub:  What was the point of the sermon?
Other than that we shouldn’t sacrifice our children.
Which kind of goes without saying.

Me: Perhaps he was talking to those who might be sitting in front of their computers being radicalized by groups like ISIS.
Because those groups do sacrifice their children.
Strap bombs to them.
Perhaps he was speaking to that.

Still Me: I was thinking, as the Scripture was being read, that had God not stayed Abraham’s hand He would have left a huge and eternal opening for the accuser.

In order to eternally zip the enemy’s lip God would have to be both Abraham and Isaac.

The Hub: You’re right, that’s the only sacrifice that would put Him above reproach.

Me: Can’t accuse a guy of anything who’s willing to make the sacrifice AND be the sacrifice.

I went on: Father Ken mentioned that in Biblical times people thought they were pleasing God by sacrificing their children.

You want an animal sacrifice? The best of my flock? I’ll do you one better…

But God didn’t ask for one better.

And so it still is today, we try to add to what God has done for us, to what He requires of us.

Rather than being simply and humbly grateful.

Perhaps that was the point of the sermon.

I looked out the car window.

“Stick with me, honey, I’m a genius.”

“I know,” he replied, “that’s why I brought it up. I knew you’d have insights.”

***

I watched a Netflix movie on my computer last night while the hub was watching a NASCAR race.

Have you seen it?

That movie, this morning’s Scripture and the video I posted earlier today, all feel somehow tied together.

In my soul.

Perhaps because “God knits man in his mother’s womb slowly and wisely.  [Closure, insight, forgiveness, healing] should be born in a similar way.”

Watch the movie, wouldya’?, so we can discuss.

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Delight

 

As I stood in front of the mirror rolling my hair, the early morning sun shining through the window behind me,  I noticed that my blue eyes looked exceptionally blue.  Must be the blue dress I’m wearing.

My mind went to the sixth graders to whom I spoke last week.  They were telling me what they like about their appearance and what they like about their inner qualities.  One of the girls said, “I like how my eyes change color.”

“According to the time of day and what you’re wearing, you mean?,” I asked.

“Yes,” she nodded.

“Your eyes are lovely,” I affirmed.

I affirm each child as they tell me what they like about themselves.

And as I rolled the last section of hair it occurred to me that that is precisely why sixth graders love my talk.

I am God for them.

More precisely I am the part of God who delights in them.

Later in the lesson, as I point out the land mines that are lurking in adolescence, I am God’s voice saying, “This is the way, walk in it.”

And they appreciate knowing what’s what.

Later this morning, the bearers of the cross, the giant gold Bible, and the lanterns processed midway down the aisle and stopped, just as they do every Sunday. The Bible was opened and the deacon read from the gospels. And I love it. I love that the procession into the aisle represents Jesus coming among us.  Jesus telling us His good news – not from afar, but from within our midst.

I jotted in my bulletin, “I want to bring an aspect of God whenever I speak – mercy, compassion, love, grace, guidance, delight.”

Wouldn’t that be something?

To bring God’s delight within a midst?

To leave each person with a sense that God finds him/her delightful?

Mr. Rogers was good at that.

I think I’ll make it my prayer.

For now, I’ll ask you what I always ask them:

What 3 things do you like most about your appearance?

What 3 things do you like most about your character/inner beauty?

 

 

 

 

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Smiling at Ugly

I saw God once. He was sitting on a throne and He looked pleased.  Contented. As though there were no terrorism or exploitation or child/animal/spouse abuse or abortion or addiction or disease.

He was smiling as though all is right with the world.

From His perspective, perhaps it is.

Perhaps what makes the world right in His eyes is not our behavior, but His.

He sits with a serene smile because all is right in His world.

We mock Him in our world and He loves us in His.

We exploit and terrorize here, He redeems and forgives there.

His conscience is clear because He has always done the right thing.

So He smiles.

I was a little like that when I was young, smiling at the world with a soft heart.

But somewhere along the way my smile became based on the behavior of others.

I was only as content as my husband was faithful, my child was grateful, my friends were loyal.

As my contentment became based upon things I could not control, I stewed more than I smiled.

I stewed because people aren’t being how they’re supposed to be.

I’ve been wanting to get back to smiling, even at an ugly world, and God has shown me how He does it.

He doesn’t smile because we are being how we’re supposed to be.

He smiles because He is faithful.

He smiles because He is grateful.

He smiles because He is loyal.

And because He has redemption up His sleeve.

“Look at them,” Jesus said as He looked out over the crowds of rich, poor, healthy, lame, righteous, grateful, unrighteous, ungrateful, faithful, adulterous, loyal betrayers at the start of Matthew chapter 5, “Blessed are they.”

“Blessed are they because I am here to do the right thing.”

And He did.

And now He smiles.

And I want to smile with Him.

Blessed are we.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

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On the Brink

I watched a young boy approach a precipice.

I watched him take a long, measured pause.

I watched him take a step.

In September I told a true story about an experience my daughter had in kindergarten.

She was the youngest in her class – only 4 years old when the school year began – and she was small. A sweet little peanut who hardly weighed anything, with a sensitive heart.

One of her classmates was six when the school year began. She was big – tall and strong – and a bit of a bully. Some days she made my sweet-hearted little girl cry.

So we started mentioning her name in our bedtime prayers. We asked God to soften her heart.

“By the end of that school year,” I told the group of 8-and-9-year-olds who were sitting in a circle on the floor, “the two girls were good friends.”

The child who was not seated in the circle, the one I was sort of told had ADHD, stopped whatever it was he was doing in the corner of the room and looked up.

“Did that really happen?,” he asked with great interest.

“Yes it did,” I replied.

In the following weeks he sat in the circle for the Bible lesson. He interrupted, he disrupted but he was interested and engaged. He mentioned something about his dad. I reminded him that God can soften harsh hearts.

Meanwhile, his kindhearted grandma was teaching him about Jesus. He often came to class enthusiastically sharing the things she told him.

Most weeks he was disruptive and disobedient.  He wanted to draw during the Bible lesson. I told him he could draw as long as he was drawing something related to what he was hearing.  He drew Pokemon characters instead.

He had good weeks and bad weeks.

In January he paused in front of a large picture of Jesus as we were walking down the hallway, headed to our classroom.

I watched as he stood on that precipice, wheels turning in his head. I knew what he was contemplating.

A week or so later I asked him to step into the hallway during the Bible lesson.  My co-leader was teaching and he was disrupting.

“Do you know why we are out here?” I asked. It was our familiar routine.  Most weeks he did know and we came up with a plan to curb his behavior.

But that week he said, “I almost did it.”

I knew what he meant.

“I almost bowed down to Him.  I almost bowed down to Him but now you’ve made me come out in the hall.”

Oh no you don’t, I thought, you aren’t going to pin your decision on me.

He started drawing pictures of Satan during the Bible lesson.

“You are not allowed to draw Satan while I’m teaching about Jesus,” I told him, week after week to no avail.

In March my co-leader had each student write a question they wanted to ask God.

He wrote that he wanted an angel to come and tell him whether he would be married some day, whether he would have a son.

And I understood the precipice. I understood the edge upon which he was teetering.

Align himself/his life with the kindhearted, God-loving grandma who brought him to Bible study or align himself with his harsh father.

He apparently chose the one he falsely perceived as having the power.

Counterfeit power.

There is a lot more actual power in being his grandmother than there is in being his dad.

He came to class with a mysterious gouge on his nose. He didn’t know what happened.

Once or twice he came with gouges all over his face.

Was he harming himself?

At times he paired his disobedience with a maniacal laugh.

By now every week was a bad week.

Many times throughout the year I wanted to excuse him from the program to protect the learning of the other students but my concerns were always overruled.

In May I shuddered.

It was one of our last evenings together before the program adjourned for the summer. We were seated around the table. He was successfully charming one of the volunteers and as he did so, he shot me a smirking glance.

The look in his eye, the calculated charm, the glimpse into what next year would hold.

I shuddered. His glance reminded me of a 4-year-old I met years ago when I was a social worker. I was at his foster home visiting the 9-year-old on my case load.

The foster mom and I were sitting on her porch discussing the progress of the 9-year-old. The 4-year-old was on the porch with us.  The foster mom went to get us some iced tea. As soon as the 4-year-old and I were alone on the porch, he started to ogle me in a way that still gives me the creeps. Then he propositioned me. It was disturbing on a level I can’t begin to describe.

When the foster mom returned with tea I asked to speak with her privately. I told her what happened and then she told me that the boy was back in foster care after a broken adoption.  The adoption failed because the boy had been propositioning his adoptive mother. The adoptive parents had not been told enough about his history, they had not been told that it included sexual abuse.

The shudder I felt at the Bible study table was almost as chilling as the shudder on that porch.

I made a final plea on behalf of next year’s teachers and students.

To no avail. I won’t be back next year, but he will.

Children aren’t diagnosed with personality disorders because as children their personalities aren’t fully formed. Behaviors that would be deemed narcissistic in an adult are typical of some developmental stages.

But one day this child might be diagnosed with a personality disorder, because ADHD does not begin to cover what I observed.

Watching him being coddled by those who overruled me, I wondered whether narcissistic personality disorder is groomed by well-meaning adults.

I believe in offering support to children who have learning and behavioral difficulties, and I also believe that if we don’t expect them to exercise self-control, they will never have the muscle to stand on their own. If the treatment we give them is too special, will they narcissistically grow to believe that they deserve special treatment, that it’s all about them, all the time?

It’s tricky.

On the one hand, no one wants to exclude a child from learning about Jesus, on the other hand, not every venue is appropriate for every child.

My daughter told me about a program called Brain Balance. Maybe that would help him succeed in structured venues.

At the end of the last night of class his grandma thanked me for putting up with him. She said she knew what a difficult year it had been for me.

Then why did you continue to bring him week after week? Why did you let me keep paying the price?, I thought, as I smiled and said nothing.

I’m not saying that she brought him in order to give her daughter a few hours of free weekly respite, because I don’t know that for sure.

But it seemed that way.

I don’t know all that went into the boy’s choice, but I pray Jesus, his grandma’s love and some skilled mental health intervention will one day pull him out of the abyss.

One on one sharing of Jesus, grandma to grandson.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

Deuteronomy 30:19-20

#precipice #adrift

 

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