Monthly Archives: September 2015

Visiting Connie

elderly couple

The leaders sent some of the Pharisees and some of Herod’s followers to Jesus. They wanted to trap him into saying the wrong thing. When they came to him, they said, “Teacher, we know that you tell the truth. You don’t favor individuals because of who they are. Rather, you teach the way of God truthfully. Is it right to pay taxes to the emperor or not? Should we pay taxes or not?”Jesus recognized their hypocrisy, so he asked them, “Why do you test me? Bring me a coin so that I can look at it.” They brought a coin. He said to them, “Whose face and name is this?” They told him, “The emperor’s.” Jesus said to them, “Give the emperor what belongs to the emperor, and give God what belongs to God.” They were surprised at his reply.  Mark 12:13-17

The Pope has been in the States this week. The news is full of stories of what he is doing, and how he talked to Congress about issues like immigration and climate change.

This story from Mark 12 about Jesus makes me wonder what Jesus would have done, given the same platform.

Because Jesus was also asked to get involved in politics.  He was tasked with providing an answer to the question of paying taxes to the government.  He was shown a coin with the face of an emperor on it.  To the Jews, a coin with a face on it was blatant idolatry.  Of course Jesus would need to speak out against it.

Yet Jesus amazes them by not standing against idolatry, not jumping into the political controversy.

What does he tell them instead?  Give God what belongs to God.

This week I finally went and visited Connie*, an elderly woman who lives a few streets away, in my neighborhood.  I’ve known Connie for almost 6 years, or at least I’ve seen her and her husband, Robert, as they walked, and I’ve said, “Hello” to them.

Before we knew their names, Ken and I would call Robert and Connie, the “wizened couple.”  A couple of mornings or so a week, we would wake up at 5:30 in the morning and go jogging down the broad tree lined sidewalk of our subdivision.  Every time we went out, no matter how cold, we saw this ancient couple hobbling along.  The wife was tiny and wiry, with a puff of white hair.  The husband was tall and bent over.  Often, at some point, the wife would get out ahead, working her way up the hill, which was pretty steep.  The husband would be some distance behind, shuffling along.  In the winter they wore hoodies, with the hoods cinched around their faces.

Ken and I would jog past them, calling out a greeting and reining in our dog Buddy, who would sometimes try to run up to them to sneak in a sniff.  And then after we had run our route and were on the on the way back, we’d come upon the wizened couple again, only this time they were not alone. They would be talking and walking with Mary, a fellow neighbor, a mother of teens, who ran long distances with her little terrier in the very early morning.   Mary always ended her workout by strolling and visiting with the older couple.  Often there would be a group of people talking to them.  I called it the “Five Thirty Club,” because it was so wild to me that all these people who were out walking would cluster and talk and carry on in the dark before dawn.  Sometimes Ken and I would stop for a brief chat, but mostly we were on a schedule, and we said, “Have a nice day,” and ran on.

And then, one morning, we stopped seeing Robert and Connie.  We did run into Mary.  She said Robert’s health was failing.  Since Connie no longer drove, Mary herself was taking Robert to many of his medical appointments.  I told Mary we would pray, and we did.

A few weeks later, Mary texted me to tell me that Robert was in hospice. I meant to go visit him.  But other things seemed to fill my schedule.

A couple of weeks ago I saw Connie out walking again, with two of the members of the Five Thirty Club.  One of them dropped back and told us that Robert had passed.  She mentioned how much Connie would like a visit.  I put it on my list of things to do, but didn’t get to it.  The next week I saw the women again.  “I’m going to come visit you,” I called to Connie as they walked by.  “She could love that,” her friend said emphatically.

So this past Wednesday morning I made time to go visit Connie.  We had such a great talk.  She told me all kinds of things about the people in her life.  One of the most amazing things she told me was how her friends went with her when she got with her preacher to make funeral arrangements.  “What family members are these?” the pastor asked, about the three neighbor women who accompanied her.   You see, Robert and Connie didn’t have any children, but the women in her neighborhood took care of them like they were family.  The pastor couldn’t believe that these women were there for her in such a close way.

What a great example of loving your neighbor!

So as I think of Jesus, and the way he answered the Pharisees who were trying to trap him, it reminds me of what he said in Luke 9:60

“Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Jesus just wanted people to go and do the work of God.  He wanted them to “give to God what belongs to God.”

Thus, as it is so easy for me to get caught up in all kinds of issues, and affairs, I am learning to DO God’s work of caring for others more.

This is so hard for me.  I can easily put it off until tomorrow and write blogs and newsletters, do yard work, house work, and so on.

But this week I went and visited Connie.  It wasn’t that much, not nearly as much as the neighborhood women did for her.

But I think it’s what Jesus would have done.

*(The names were changed in this blog.)

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Diary, Mark

FORECAST

The fall rain that was not forecast continues

Gentle tapping on the roof

In a year when nothing has gone as expected —

When the summer was too hot

With pregnant clouds that lurked, unpredictable;

When disease rose up to steal dreams

And the clear path faded,

Stability became instability.

So I go out and welcome the refreshing touches

Of cool droplets on my face

The drizzle that presages another season;

The surety that things are unfolding

As they should.

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry

Brought to the Point of Change

But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed.  Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully.  He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.  He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’  But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’  So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.  Mark 12:3-7  (Read earlier verses if you need context.)

The movie Captive opened this past weekend, telling the real life story of Ashley Smith, a drug addict whose life turned around when she was held hostage by escaped convict and murderer Brian Nichols.

captive

I watched a recent interview Katie Couric did with Ashley Smith.  It was truly amazing to hear Smith tell how she managed to say “no” to doing meth on the night she was held hostage, when she had not been able to resist it before.

At this time her life was in ruins.  She had lost custody of her daughter.  It was only when she thought her life was over that she had the motivation to, as she put it, make the right choice one time before she died.

And once she made that choice, God began to work, and her life began to change.  She was able to build a rapport with Nichols.  She got away from him.  She never did drugs again.  She got married and had a family.

God is good at orchestrating things so we have the motivation to finally make that one good choice we haven’t been able to make.

I’ve been listening to Exodus lately. There are some parallels here.  God brought Pharoh to the point where he was finally motivated to do what God asked.

In the same way, the parable above speaks of how God would bring the Israelites to the point where they would be finally motivated to do the right thing.

Mark 12 goes on to read:

What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture:

‘The stone the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone;

the Lord has done this,

and it is marvelous in our eyes’

 The disaster of killing the Messiah would turn into something marvelous.

As Peter preached in Acts 4:

Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead.  Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

It’s amazing. In the most unlikely of ways, SALVATION came to Israel, to the Gentiles, to US.

The crucifixion brings us all to the point of making of one right choice: the decision to give our life fully to Christ in faith.

When we realize that we personally are responsible for the death of God’s own son, and that God freely sent His son to be abandoned, abused, spit on, tortured, killed, when all the while we were stubbornly rejecting Him over and over, it breaks our heart, it drives us to our knees in awe.  It’s the only thing that can motivate us to turn our life around.

It’s hard to think we are personally responsible, because we weren’t living back then.  But our willful wrongdoing ensured that Christ had to die even if everyone else was perfect.

The picture of grace here is astounding.  How could God have reached out to the Israelites, over and over again, in the face of their rejection?  “He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.”

How could God reach out to us, time after time, when we turn away and run after what WE want?

I am so inspired, so filled up with the wonder of this.

And I remember times God has brought me to the point of change.  When I was in my 20’s my marriage had problems and I was unhappy. I dedicated myself more wholly to God and I have been deeply joyful ever since.  Later, Ken and I were very discouraged because three couples in our family group got divorced.  We moved to Auburn, rededicated our lives to God, and grew in great ways.  Recently, it’s been hard because of my friend’s cancer, and setbacks in the church.  We decided to become more mission focused.  We’ve been invigorated.

It’s the same for all of us.  Here are a few lessons to take away from this:

  1. What seems like a crisis can be a turning point.
  2. Sometimes experiencing crisis is the only way to bring us to character change.
  3. God works through processes over time to bring us to the point of change.
  4. Sometimes we need to see the consequences of our stubborn hard heart, of doing it our way, in order to change.
  5. When we make that one good choice, it can alter our whole future.
  6. God, in His mind boggling grace, gives us many more chances than we deserve to make the right choice.

Love so amazing, so divine.  Demands my soul, my heart, my all.

Leave a comment

Filed under Grace, Mark

Honoring The Provider

Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place.  At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard.  Mark 12:1-3

Friends, it is super encouraging to see from this parable how God loves to provide for us, how He loves to set us up to win.  Like the man in the parable, God furnishes for us everything that we need for fruitful living!

My living room

My living room

Flowers in my yard.

Flowers in my yard.

And we can infer from this parable that it isn’t a slapdash kind of a gift.   You don’t just throw together a vineyard.  It takes much thought about what would be the best location for the planting, and where everything would be placed.

God really is a creative God.  You think you put a lot of thought into your work, your plans and designs?  God puts a mind blowing blast of divine inspiration into his plans for us!  He considers, and then fashions places for us to live and learn and thrive.

Rain falling on my yard.

Rain falling on my yard.

But even though we know this, we keep drifting back to thinking that what we have comes from us, from our plans, our education, our initiative, our efforts. We get enthralled with our workings.  It feels like it’s all us.

Let’s remember that the Lord provides the basis behind all that we have.

Let’s remember that we are but stewards.

Let’s remember that the vineyard GOD has brought us to is exceedingly good!

. . . we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.  Ps 66:12

He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.  Ps 18:19

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.  Ps 16:6

IMG_6074 IMG_6075

And then let’s give back to God.  If there’s one thing that’s clear about this parable, it’s that God expects us to honor Him as the source of all our blessings.

It has always been this way —

In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LordAnd Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.  Gen 4:3-4

Even from the very beginning, people were expected to honor God with their wealth.

And it mattered how they gave back.  God did not approve of Cain’s offering.

Cain probably thought he was doing God a favor.  After all, he was giving, and he was giving the thing that meant the most to him.  He was sacrificing his own food that wouldn’t go into his belly.  Wouldn’t God appreciate that?

We’re the same way.  We think just ole way of any giving back is good.    I mean, after all, we’re making the commendable effort to get off our selfish behinds and give.  We  feel great about that and pat ourselves on the back.

For instance, Ken and I went door knocking last Saturday to raise money for the HOPE Worldwide Superheroes 4 Orphans campaign.

Superhero 2

We went out late in the afternoon, and I was tired and it had been a busy day.  I went a bit grudgingly, with the sort of thought in the back of the mind that God should be grateful that I was doing for Him this thing I didn’t feel like doing.

But then I recalled that it matters how we give to God.

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  II Cor 9:7

And do not grumble, as some of them did–and were killed by the destroying angel.  I Cor 10:10

Rats.  I forget how God hates grumbling, even if it’s just in our hearts.

So let’s acknowledge what a bounty we’ve been given, and joyfully give back.  Let’s have a different heart, and humbly honor God as the source.

IMG_6079 IMG_6088

Even the gift of our salvation is a gift at His hands.  We can’t fool ourselves that we had it together, and that’s how we got saved.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  I Cor 1:26

It’s ALL from God.

We can’t take it for granted.

I got a card in the mail yesterday from my son’s girlfriend, thanking us for taking them out to dinner last weekend.

IMG_6102

That was impressive.  Most people would have thought, “Of course the parents would want to see us and take us to dinner.”  They wouldn’t have been so grateful.

Are we appreciative?

We’ve GOT to quit serving grudgingly!

May our hearts be soft with gratitude.

May our hands be eager to serve.

May we honor Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Abundance/Greatness of God, Gratitude, Mark

Strength in Our Authority

They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”

Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ . . . ” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)  So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”  Mark 11:27-33

From the beginning, Jesus was different than the other teachers.

The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.  Mark 1:22

A teachers of the law would usually be a follower of a school of thought from a respected teacher of old, like Hillel.  So part of what was unusual about Jesus was that he taught as if he were from God, instead of following a tradition of teaching.  Consider how Jesus conducted the Sermon on the Mount —

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  Matt 5:27

Jesus was directly giving the people new teachings.  He completely acted like he had the AUTHORITY to give them new commands.  No wonder the teachers of the law were freaking out.  No one did that.

Of course, it was much more than teachings.  Jesus had just created havoc in the temple, overturning tables and driving out the merchants.  The leaders were frothing at the mouth, “The nerve of this guy!  Who does he think he is?”

Jesus didn’t just speak as if he had authority.  He ACTED as if he had authority.  He was bold.  He did miracles and signs.

But the main thing I want to focus on isn’t the miracles.  It’s his life.  Jesus lived a life of IMPACT, perhaps more than anyone before him, or since.

Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father.  But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”  John 10:37-38

The conduct of Jesus was a testimony to his authority.  And the people who followed him EXPERIENCED this.  They were around him all the time, and they could tell he was from God.

HOW CAN WE APPLY THESE THINGS?  It is interesting to note that people today are the same as the teachers of the law were in the days of Jesus.  They ask, “What tradition do you follow?”  The only difference is that they are asking, “Are you Baptist?  Methodist? Evangelical? Reformed? Catholic?”

1: We need to make sure that our authority comes from God, not from our school of religious thought.  And that means our authority comes from God’s Word.  Yes, we can consider what everyone has to say, the talks, the blogs, the videos, the books, the articles, and so on.  But in the end, we need to study the Bible for ourselves and build our convictions from it.

And when we do so, it will be harder, but we’ll be stronger.

It will be harder because some of the stuff in the Bible seems so radical.  Gouge out our eye?  Turn the other cheek?  Tell us we don’t have to do that!  We’re like the expert in the law in Luke 10 who says, “I know one of the most important commandments is to love your neighbor as yourself, but who is my neighbor?”

But if we put it into action, we’ll be stronger because we’re not waffling and riding the fence.  We’re developing a backbone, becoming men and women of conviction who live by their beliefs.

2:  As we build conviction, we need to speak with confidence.  We have authority from Christ in this world.  Consider these passages —

  • We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.  II Cor 5:20
  • He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant . . .   II Cor 3:6
  • I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.  Romans 15:14
  • Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” . . . Matt. 28:19

(I want to clarify that I’m not saying here that we should come up with new teachings through the Spirit.  It is our job to search out and communicate the authentic purposes of the scripture.)

3: Our conduct needs to be a testimony to our authority.  We back up our teachings with our lives.  Look at how the apostles appeared to people —

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. Acts 4:13

It’s being with Jesus that makes the difference.  When we walk with Jesus through our days, when we meditate on his word, we become different.  We develop an inner strength.

I was thinking about this passage when I went to a church conference this past weekend.  I started feeling insecure.  “I’m aging,” I thought.  “Those women still look good, but what will they think of me?”  It was so tempting to put my confidence in wearing a sharp outfit or being well groomed.

I had to decide that my confidence would wholly come from Christ in me.  He is a real, solid presence to me.  He is my motivating force.  I could act from a core of strength instead of insecurity because HE IS MY AUTHORITY.  My inner joy would be my outfit.  My love would be my cosmetics.

With friends at the conference.

With friends at the conference.

Here are some awesome verses that describe this inner power —

  • My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. I Cor 2:4-5
  •  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; . . . We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. . . . Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. II Cor 4

CONCLUSION:  I want to point out that Jesus never answered the teachers of the law when they asked him about his authority.  Maybe he knew it wouldn’t be productive.

In the end, it wasn’t what Jesus said about authority that mattered.  It was how he lived.  His authority was God, and the proof of this for those who had eyes to see was the way he spoke, and loved, and served, and acted in righteousness.

In the same way, our most productive answer for people may not be a religious discussion.  Our testimony is our lives.

The only way people can tell where our authority comes from is by experiencing our lives.

So let us live with strength and power!  We have a SOURCE, we draw directly from the source, and that is what makes us who we are.  We can have IMPACT.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Mark, Uncategorized

A Letter to My Friends

Friends, I just want to say that God is awesome.  I think a lot about what I would like to do with the rest of my life.  I think of so many things that would be good — businesses to start, goals to achieve.

But my heart really is to reflect and communicate the awesomeness of God to everyone.

Every day is worthwhile because of what God puts into it.  It’s like God is writing a beautiful story with each one of our lives, and each day is a page.  Yes, there are trials and hardships.  Things go wrong.  We mess up.  But there are also amazing things occurring.

Here are a few of those things in my life lately.   We had a wonderful impromptu women’s time last night.  It was great to see how each woman is growing through God.  One sister who has had some challenges shared a victory she had.  Another woman who has been visiting church said that the time was so encouraging because she has never before had friends she could talk to.

On Saturday I found out about a couple I know who got baptized last week.  My heart was thrilled and amazed.

IMG_6055

This morning I prayed with a young woman I studied the Bible with over three years ago.  She’s not a Christian yet, but it is miraculous to see how far she’s come.  She is now studying the Bible with sisters in New York.

Sunday after church Marge and I had lunch with a mature sister.  It was so good.  We opened up our hearts to one another about what we’ve been going through.  We could uniquely relate to each other.  We talked about verses and spiritual principles that make us thrive through our difficulties.  It was so good.  Afterwards, the sister insisted on paying for the lunch.

I could go on and on.  The blessings things are there.  All we have to do is acknowledge them.

You know, one thing I’ve been doing lately is listening to the Bible in the car.  I get Bible CDs from the library.  I love listening to Genesis.  There are so many inspiring lessons and applications I can think of as I hear the stories.

Something that I am remembering as I listen is that God works over long periods of time.  God made promises to Abraham, but it took years until Sarah was actually pregnant.  And then God told Abraham that his descendants would be taken to captivity for 400 years, before they would be brought out and given the promised land.  God does have great plans.  But we have to go through challenging times on the way to attaining them.

Here is another way I’ve been growing.  I am learning to VALUE LEARNING.   There’s this new book out by Jessica Lahey called, “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed.”   An an article about the book, Rachel Simmons of “TIME” magazine says about young women in particular, “They’ve been so protected from mistakes, usually by their parents, that they fear failure, avoid risk and value image over learning.

“Failing well is a skill,”  Simmons writes.  “Letting girls do it gives them critical practice coping with a negative experience. It also gives them the opportunity to develop a kind of confidence and resilience that can only be forged in times of challenge.”

I HAVE to learn to value the process of learning, with the mistakes and failures along the way and stop just wanting everything to be neat and perfect.  As I was praying for all of you this morning, I realized that each of you is in a state of learning.  You may be going through some things, but that is necessary to where you need to go.

Oh, there’s so much more that I’ve thinking about lately that I want to share with you.  I’ve been reading “Geisha of Gion,” by Miniko Isasaki, about a Japanese geisha in the 60’s and 70’s.  She was not a prostitute, she was a highly educated entertainer and companion.  One thing that impressed me about her culture was the importance they give to maintaining relationships.  Every day the women of the geisha house would make visits and call on people.  Their life was built on a network of relationships they had to maintain.

So, the Spirit prompted me as I was praying, I can do this too!  Why do I need to set appointments with people like this huge thing that’s going to happen?  Why not just touch base with them and say, “I’d like to drop by and visit for a few minutes?”  And that is what I did.  I texted a friend and asked if it was a good time to drop by and pray together.  It was, and we had the most encouraging time!

Okay, I have to stop, I’m running out of time.  But one more thing.  I was praying this week, and this came to me.  I need to stop worrying so much, and striving so much, and just seek His kingdom.  I am only a child kneeling before God.  I need to trust Him to take care of things, while I bask in his presence and delight in life.  In other words, in the end, I can only worry about myself and my relationship with God, and that I am right with Him.  I sing in the shadow of his wings.

Just as the early disciples did.  They rejoiced and felt RICH even though they were being persecuted.  No matter what they went through, they were still full of patience and kindness.  I’ve leave you with this most awesome verse, II Cor 6:4-10:

Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Here are recent pictures chronicling some of the blessings God gives.  I love each one of you.

Kim on her birthday

Kim on her birthday

Pictures I took from the car

Pictures I took from the car

Clouds

clouds 2

IMG_6023 IMG_6026

IMG_6019

Leave a comment

Filed under Diary