You’ve Been Chosen!

As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. – Mark 1:16-18

According to our pastor in Florida, rabbis in Jesus’ time didn’t actively go around looking for followers. Those wanting to be disciples would seek out the rabbi and hope to be accepted, much like students applying to a college today. In choosing his students, the rabbi would speak a specific Hebrew phrase, translated literally, “Behind me,” meaning “I choose you,” or, “Follow me.”

This was precisely the same phrase Jesus used by the Sea of Galilee, when He called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to be His disciples. According to Luke’s gospel, this was just after the miraculous catch of fish. (Luke 5:4-7)

Imagine the emotions felt by these common fishermen.

First, they’ve just experienced a massive haul of fish, after catching nothing all night. Then, as they are still stunned by this miracle, they hear the familiar words, “Follow Me.”

They had heard these words spoken in the past, but not spoken to them. As young boys, they had been passed up, or possibly had never had the confidence to apply.

Most of us understand the feeling of rejection, whether we’ve been last one “chosen” in elementary sports (which of course means not chosen), turned down for a prom date, not getting the part in the play, not making the team, denied entry to the hoped-for college, having the engagement broken off, not offered the job, or turned down for the promotion. I’m guessing most or all of us have felt that disappointment and eventual resignation that what we had hoped for was not to be. Maybe we never even applied, figuring we weren’t good enough and never would be. We can identify with Peter, Andrew, James, or John, who were expecting nothing other than being fishermen for the rest of their lives.

But now imagine a Man has burst onto the scene, performed miracles, and caused a stir everywhere He went. Imagine being in the crowd, just wanting to get a glimpse of Him. Imagine one day He performs a miracle for you, then looks right at you and says, in essence, “I want YOU.”

Would you say, “Naa, I got work to do,” or “I think You’re getting me mixed up with someone else,” or “I’m going to have to think about this …”?

Or would you have realized that this Man calling you was the greatest Rabbi who ever lived – that He was much more than a rabbi? Would you have had a stirring in your heart that let you know this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not to be missed? Would you have done what these men did – drop everything and follow Him, even if you don’t know where He will lead you, or what the outcome will be?

Matthew, the despised tax collector, tells a similar story of his own conversion:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. – Matthew 9:9

When considering the context of the culture of that day and the appearance of this extraordinary Rabbi, what may have initially seemed a little odd suddenly makes perfect sense. I think if I were being called by Jesus, I would react the same way, wouldn’t you?

But wait … we ARE being called by Jesus!

He stands at the doors of our hearts every day, calling, “Follow Me.” It may not be on the shores of Lake Galilee, but He does call us, right where we are. He calls us through His Word, the Bible. John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” He makes it clear this call is for “whoever. – Is that you?

I’m guessing God has been calling you in other ways, too – in the way you feel a longing for something more, even though you don’t know what that “something” is. He may be speaking to you through someone who knows Him and wants so much for you to know Him, too. He may speak to you through “coincidental” articles, radio programs – or blogs!? – that answer questions that have been silently nagging at you all your life.

If you are feeling insignificant today, maybe even wondering why you’re here on this planet, take a moment and imagine the King of the Universe looking into your eyes, pointing to you – yes, YOU! – and saying,

“I choose you.”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we are so prone to judging ourselves and others by the wrong criteria. While we see “common” people all around us, maybe even seeing ourselves as the most common and insignificant of all, You see what the world doesn’t. You have divine perspective. And You alone determine the value of each of us. We know we are flawed, sinful people. We are utterly unworthy of Your giving Your life for us, and yet You did. Somehow, we must have huge worth in Your eyes – You have chosen us! You call us to forsake the old life of sin and follow You into a new life. Who are we to say “no”? We yield to Your leading, in Your name. Amen.

Top Ten (With Apologies to David Letterman)

You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. – James 4:2b, 3

Lord, teach us to pray,” the disciples asked Jesus. (Luke 11:1) They had seen Jesus praying often and had seen His prayers answered promptly and miraculously. They wanted to wield that kind of power!

They, on the other hand, had recognized that they did not have the wisdom or the power to pray effectively. They already had a vague idea how not to pray, as I’m guessing most of us have, as well.

I have believed in Jesus for well over half a century, and I have come up with a reliable list of what doesn’t work when it comes to this most powerful force in the universe. (Trust me, there’s a reason I know all of them, with the exception of #10-1/2, which, not being a husband, I got straight from Scripture.)

So here, for your amusement and discernment, is the list of the

TOP TEN WAYS TO GUARANTEE YOUR PRAYERS WON’T GET ANSWERED*:

[10- 1/2 (Married men) Disrespect and mistreat your wife. (I Peter 3:7) ]

10. Give God tiny bits of your leftover time and second-rate resources and reserve the best for other things. Squander your time but hoard your stuff; don’t tithe. (Malachi 3:8-10) Fill your day/mind with secular media nonstop, so God can’t get a word in edgewise. (Romans 12:2)

9. Avoid that person you’ve been having a problem with, or who has a problem with you. (Matthew 5:23 & 24)

8. Accuse God of not understanding how important this is; He’s just not as smart as you are. (Isaiah 55: 8 & 9) Believe that health and wealth are the most important things, and if you aren’t healthy and wealthy, God must not care about you. (II Corinthians 12:7-10)

7. Ask once. Then if nothing happens right away, give up. Say, “See? I knew it wouldn’t work.” (Luke 18:1)

6. After saying “Amen,” immediately tell yourself all the reasons God’s probably not going to answer. For extra assurance, tell others, too. (James 1:6 & 7)

5. Keep God confined to one small area in your life, away from all the everyday events and far from any guilty pleasures, bad habits, and secret sins; He wouldn’t want to be around all that stuff, anyway. (Psalm 66:18)

4. Make a list of all the bad things that have been done to you, and who did it. Memorize it and recite it often. Share it with others and invite them to be offended with you. (Mark 11: 24 & 25)

3. Ignore what God has done for you in the past or complain about the way He did it or about what He hasn’t done. Whatever you do, don’t be grateful! (Philippians 4:6)

2. Ask not what you can do for God; ask what He can do for you. (James 4:3)

… and the Number One way to make sure your prayers don’t get answered [drumroll]:

#1.DON’T PRAY. (James 4:2)

Prayer: Lord, truthfully, we DO want to see our prayers answered, but we confess we do not always want the same things You do. Give us the right attitudes and desires for the things You long to give us. May we desire to know You and make You known. May we seek to know You more intimately every day – to see Your face, hear Your voice, feel Your embrace, and have our hearts beat in sync with Yours. Give us hearts like Yours, even if that means having our hearts broken with what breaks Your heart. Give us the right motives and priorities. (Give us wisdom!) Help us to draw ever closer to You, until we are one with You and can truly say, “THY will be done.” In Jesus’ name, amen.

*Excerpted from my book BARRIERS (So, if prayers are so powerful, how come mine don’t get answered?)

“Serendipity”: Where ADD Train of Thought Meets Divine Planning

Direct my footsteps according to your word. – Psalm 119:133a

A recent post from another blogger addressed the contrast between the world of the persecuted church and that of the Western culture. In the first, there is only one ongoing daily decision: Do what’s right or do what’s wrong. In our world, on the other hand, we make dozens, if not hundreds, of minor, mundane choices every day. The details of our daily lives can clutter up our minds and make it hard to focus on spiritual issues.

(Sometimes.)

My morning began with some mundane choices, starting with what to wear. Here’s a summary of the train of thought in my ADD/OCD mind:

Jeans? … No, yoga pants would be better for the chiropractor – no waistband and stitching getting in the way. … Sweatshirt? … Too warm. … T-shirt? Not warm enough. … Long-sleeved t-shirt? Perfect. … Which one? … Gray? … Not with black yoga pants. Too dull! ”’ Navy blue? Too dark! Stripes? Too “yacht club” to wear with yoga pants...

It did cross my mind, Why do I care what I’m wearing to the chiropractor?

I grabbed a bright red, long-sleeved t-shirt I had received from the Red Cross as a “thank you” for giving blood. Bingo!

As I drove to my appointment, I passed the shopping center where I had been with my granddaughter the day before. A woman had been at the entrance then, holding up a sign saying, “Homeless. Hungry. Anything you can contribute would be appreciated.” I had stopped at the red light and given her one of the protein bars I always carry in the car for such occasions. It was “chocolate chip cookie dough,” but the way the lady squealed “CHOCOLATE!!!” you would have thought it was pure gold. After such a delighted response, I later wished I had given her the chocolate chip brownie protein bar instead – double the chocolate.

This morning I looked at the entrance as I drove to my appointment but didn’t see the woman there this time.

But driving home, I did spot her and decided to pick up a few groceries there, so I could treat her on the way out.

I was minding my own business in the grocery store, when I heard a cheery voice call out, “I love your shirt!” I turned to see two women, one in a motorized wheelchair, smiling at me. The one seated unzipped her Red Cross windbreaker to show me she was wearing a donor shirt, too. I got into a conversation with these delightful ladies about blood donations, our names and their meanings (Their names were a lot more interesting than mine.), and Jesus and how wonderful He is. As it’s been with other encounters with fellow believers, I felt as though I’d known these sisters for years.

I told them about the piece I’d written for this blog, with the dream where I went to heaven and met a lot of seemingly random people and heard their stories. In the dream I had realized what they all had in common – they had all received a blood donation that saved their lives, after which they met Jesus, who saved their souls. Then I realized the reason Jesus had wanted me to meet all of them; they had been recipients of my blood!

The ladies loved the story, and after “fellowshipping” some more, we parted ways, knowing we’d see one another again – “here, there, or in the air.”

As I said goodbye to my two new friends, I quipped, “I knew there was a reason I put on this shirt today!” They laughed with me.

As I was pulling up to the exit, the light turned red, giving me about 60 seconds to speak to the homeless lady. Before I could give her the chocolate-chocolate protein bar or say a word, she called to me as if she’d known me forever and exclaimed, “I just got great news!”

“What?!” I asked, genuinely interested.

She went on to say how good God is – all the time! She had hit a little “glitch,” but God was still blessing her. She told me about the poisonous spider bite that had put her in the hospital. She had somehow lost her social security money, but she had just learned that she was going to start getting it again. We cheered together.

“You should celebrate with chocolate!” I suggested, handing her the bar.

She grinned and replied, “Is there any other way?”

I told her I loved her positive attitude and asked her if she had checked out any of the places with the “Now Hiring” signs. I said anyone would be delighted to have someone like her as an employee. She told me she had a medical condition that kept her from working.

“I really miss working,” she confessed, but added, “God has blessed me, though. I needed to be here. It’s humbled me.”

(Talk about divine perspective … !)

I know plenty of people who have homes and jobs and food, whose attitudes aren’t nearly as positive as hers. (Sometimes I’m one of them.) I was so touched by her words, all I could say was, “God bless you!” I asked her name, and when she told me, I promised I’d pray for her healing so she could go back to doing what she loved to do and continue to brighten people’s day.

Looking back, I don’t know how all that conversation fit into the time span of one change of a traffic light, but the Lord is not only sufficient, He’s efficient.

On the way home I reflected on the two “chance meetings” I had just been blessed with, and I couldn’t stop smiling. Sometimes my thoughts, actions, and words seem scattered and random, but the joy I experience after a couple of encounters like these makes me believe nothing catches God off guard. He knows exactly what He’s doing, even when I don’t have a clue.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You that I don’t have to be a genius with all my ducks in a row to live in Your will. I am amazed at the detailed way You orchestrate my life, moment by moment, delighting me in so many little seemingly random gifts, “just because.” (I love You!) Amen

Letter to My Younger Self

She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. – Proverbs 31:26

It’s hard to believe my high school class is getting ready to celebrate our 50th reunion. It has, in fact, been 51 years since we graduated. (Last year’s reunion was postponed due to that thing that disrupted everyone’s life. ’nuff said.)

Since the 50th is kind of a big deal, it was decided we’d put together an updated “yearbook.” Each of us was to design our own page, with a recent photo, information about our lives, and something creative expressing our uniqueness. One of the suggestions was to write a “letter to my younger self.” I liked that idea, and although Marty told me that idea was hardly original (He had to attend a lot of workshops in his job.), I had never done the exercise myself and decided to go for it.

But life was happening, and it was a while before I could set aside the time I felt I needed.

In the meantime, I was asked to speak to a group of younger women at an evening gathering and share some “wisdom from an older woman.” A few days and a lot of distraction later, I had just a few days to complete both assignments.

I woke up with the two deadlines looming and asked the Lord to please help me focus. It was then that He pointed out that they were, in fact, the same assignment! Younger women, younger me. – >Duh<. He also reminded me that the topic had been on my mind during recent beach walks and bike rides, and I already had the letter written in my mind. All I had to do was get it on paper and (the hardest part) whittle it down to one page. Thus reassured, I can honestly say I enjoyed writing it – and reading it to the group of young ladies as a springboard for the evening discussion:

Dear Younger Self,

I know right now you are a young, “cute,” albeit naïve kid, who just graduated from high school. You’re off to college and adventures in faraway places like Virginia, Florida, and England. I also know that the last thing you want is advice from an almost 70-ish has-been, but there’s your first mistake. Older people have experienced things you haven’t, things that you have no idea are even out there. They have lived life. You need to listen to old people, especially this old person, because I have lived YOUR life! A life that isn’t over yet – not even close. So, listen up. Your life can be a great adventure that keeps getting better and better, if you’re looking at it the right way.

Speaking of which, you/I have a blog now, called “Seeking Divine Perspective.” … A “blog” is a regular column you write online … “Online” means … Never mind. The point is, you will do things with your love of writing that will impact lives all over the world! (I know, hard to believe, right?) The title will come from a major lesson you will learn – that every time you’re disappointed, upset, angry, scared, depressed, and otherwise controlled by your emotions, it’s because you’re looking at things the wrong way. You need God’s perspective, not the world’s. Your Creator doesn’t made mistakes. He doesn’t lose control, and He loves you more than anyone else does – enough to die for you! (Read that Bible you got from Ladue Chapel when you were nine. It’s His love letter to you.) Everything that happens to you can work out for good, if you trust Him. You don’t even have to understand how or why now, it’ll all make sense later.

This is the most important relationship you will ever have – more important than that “Mr. Right” you’re looking for. Set that quest aside for now. Trust the One who knows everything about you, and He will give you everything you need, including a life partner.

Connect with Him regularly. Yes, I mean prayer, and no, it’s not boring! Right now, you see it as a tug of war with God, trying to get Him to give you “stuff,” but that’s seeing yourself separate from God. You’re one with God, and what’s His is yours! Prayer – done right – makes you a partner with God Himself! (How cool is that?!)

By the way, one of your books (!) will be about prayer and getting around common “barriers” that hinder them. It’ll be read in many places. Some of your biggest readership will be in Uganda and India. (Go figure.)

Stop stressing. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of heaven, and all these things [what you need] will be added to you.” – SO true! Ann, you won’t believe the blessings coming your way – all undeserved. Like a loving and faithful husband, three children who love you, at least five grandchildren to play with, spoil, and try to teach all I’m telling you now, and friends all over the world that you have and haven’t met face to face.

– Oh, and that concept you have of being 70-ish, where you look for things to kill time and fill the emptiness of your days? – Not happening. Even with multitasking, you will be trying to cram into each day everything you want to do. (Your typical bedtime will be midnight – 1:00 A.M.)                                                                                                                                                            Ann, I know you aren’t really reading this, and even if you could, you’re going to live your life your own way. You’ll whine about what isn’t, instead of being grateful for what is. You’ll ignore the “Still, Small Voice” of God, make a lot of mistakes, and reap some unpleasant consequences, but that’s how you’ll learn. (Education is expensive.) Keep short accounts with God. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, repent (tell Him you’re sorry), get back up, and try to do it His way instead of your own. You will survive! You gave your life to Jesus early on, and although you don’t always hang onto Him, He is always hanging onto you. This relationship gets sweeter and sweeter. Even now, at my ripe old age, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future.”

And after this life – eternity with Him! Yep, He rose from the grave, and because you’re His, you will, too!   So be encouraged. You’re in good hands.

LET THE ADVENTURE BEGIN! 

Love,        

Your future self

Prayer: Lord, thank You for 69 years on this earth. May I never stop learning, never stop growing into the person You created me to be. (Thanks for Your patience.) In Jesus’ name, Amen.

My Soap Opera Life

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. – John 21:25

When I was in the theater department at the university, at least one teacher suggested that acting majors audition for “daytime dramas” (soap operas), since most of these programs had a multitude of characters and were always looking for more actors. These roles would also give a beginning actor much national exposure on a daily basis. A couple of my former classmates took the advice and landed roles in two of the “soaps,” so I decided to check them out.

Having never watched a “soap” before, I noticed one thing about the plot line of these shows that they had in common. One day something earth-shaking would occur or be revealed. Then, for the next week or two, all the various characters would spend whole episodes telling one another about it and reacting to the news. Sometimes there would be flashbacks of that dramatic plot twist, so one plot twist could stretch out for days, even weeks. One could stop watching for a while, come back, and usually know exactly what was going on.

To transition from the mundane to the sacred, the book of Acts relates so many acts of God that it would seem the apostles were living one miracle after another with hardly time to catch their breath. But we should keep in mind that since the period recorded in Acts spans a number of years, this may not have been the case. Between these miraculous events were probably times of fellowship when the believers were sharing great stories over a meal, planning their next outreach, writing the next message, traveling to the next destination, or working their regular jobs. I can picture the apostle Paul, a tentmaker, working with his hands, telling Aquilla and Priscilla stories of things that happened to him before he met them. He probably told the story of his conversion many times. (Even in the book of Acts that story appears three times, once when it happened – Chapter 9 – and twice when Paul was testifying – Chapters 22 and 26.) So, life for the believers was likely a series of wondrous works of God with a lot of ordinary days in between, days that were made extraordinary because of all the exciting things there were to talk about.

My life as a Christ-follower is like that, too. Although most of my days would appear pretty ordinary, I don’t think of my life as a believer as common or dull. (My favorite t-shirt says, “If being a Christian is boring, you’re doing it wrong.”) Maybe it’s because I majored in drama, but I do love the exciting and challenging times when God clearly manifests Himself. One day I will experience an answer to prayer that’s remarkable, surprising, or even ironic. Then I will spend the next week or two thanking God for it, journaling about it, telling individuals about it, sharing it with the church – and nowadays, blogging about it! I may be doing ordinary things on those days, but I have something exciting to think about and talk about while I’m doing them.

So, by the time I run out of people to tell or stories to write about that awesome thing God did – BOOM! He does something awesome again!

In my younger days I was in multiple ministries and seeing God do amazing things on pretty much a daily basis. I tried to record all the things I was witnessing in a journal, but it was overwhelming. I remember thinking, someday, if life ever slowed down, I could spend a long time just telling “God stories” from my past, and that would keep “old age” from being dull and boring. So far there are still “God moments” going on all the time, although with an empty nest and retirement I do have more time to write, and (more importantly) to pray. With a lifestyle that younger people might think of as “BO-RING!” I still get butterflies in my stomach occasionally. Sometimes I know why – I’m about to speak or sing to an audience or talk to someone about something without knowing how (s)he’s going to react. But other times it’s out of the blue. I’ll get an irrational urge to share my “exciting news” with someone – then realize I don’t yet know what that exciting news is! The only reason I can think of for such a random attack of joy and excitement is that somewhere in the world something I’ve prayed about is happening. And someday, when I get to heaven, I’m going to meet all kinds of people with stories of ways in which my “routine” prayers were miraculously answered.

Here’s a sample of one that I was allowed to find out about in this life:

Another example is in my daily prayers for the suffering Church. In praying for the Christians who are in prison, I am aware that they may be cold, hot, or hungry. For those who are shivering in the cold, I pray for them to be “wrapped in invisible blankets.” One day the devotional from the Open Doors ministry told the story of a Christian man in prison. His cellmate had no coat and was shivering in the cold. The Christian sensed God telling him to give his coat to the other man. He obeyed and was surprised to find he was still warm all night. This true story encouraged me to keep praying for miracles, even in the darkest places. After all, that’s what God does.

With this perspective, life can hardly be boring.

Prayer: Lord, You came to give us life, and to give it more abundantly. How could we ever think of life with You as dull? Make us aware of the miraculous ways You show Your love to us every day, and may we be faithful in praying and sharing the Good News, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Out of the Saltshaker (Christians and Politics)

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” – Matthew 5:13

My family was in the salt business for three generations. My grandfather, after some years working for a salt company, quit his job and started his own company. When he retired, my uncle became president of the company, and my father, vice-president. Later, my husband Marty, a chemical engineer, had a long career with the same company, working in their research and development department.

When my sister and I were growing up, my father educated us on the many properties and uses of salt. Apparently, there was much more to it than what we shook onto our food at the dinner table. Salt was used to melt snow and ice on the roads, to preserve foods, and as a water softener. (I had no idea what that last one meant at the time.) If one of us had a sore throat, Dad encouraged us to gargle with salt water. And as I have had to deal with sinus problems most of my life, I discovered the all-important “Neti Pot” could help me breathe better by rinsing the sinuses with saline solution. I have used salt and olive oil to exfoliate and soften skin. And when occasionally I would buy some “low sodium” product by accident, I was made unpleasantly aware of how important that ingredient was to the flavor of just about any food.

So, if we are to be the “salt of the earth,” as Jesus described us, what exactly does that mean? While one could make a case for applying this passage to several of salt’s uses, the most common interpretation is in the sense of preserving. In Jesus’ time, long before there was refrigeration, salt was used to keep food from spoiling, or at least to slow down the spoilage.

No doubt about it, this fallen world, teeming with fallen people, is in decay. The world system is under the influence of our enemy Satan, and we are hurdling toward destruction. We (the Church) are sent to shine Light into the dark places, to be an influence for good. We can’t stop the destruction of the world, but we can be used by God to delay it, buying time for more people to be redeemed.

So, how do we do that? The answer will be different from one person to the next. But one thing we are not to do is isolate ourselves within our churches and wait it out. As the king told his servants in one of Jesus’ parables, “Occupy until I come.” This parable has implications for us as we wait for Christ’s return – we have work to do.

Does this work involve (*cringe*)”politics”?

Maybe.

In the Body of Christ there are different members with different roles. Most of us are not called to enter the arena of social activism or government leadership. But, thank God, some of us are – I would not want to live in a country run entirely by the ungodly! (No politician jokes, please.)

Those who are sincerely trying to be “salt and light” in our government have an uphill climb, and often feel as though the rest of us have abandoned them. As much as some of us loathe politics and would like to stay uninvolved, we do need to support our brothers and sisters who are in places of authority.

The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and those in authority, that we may lead peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (I Timothy 2: 1-3) So, praying for our leaders is the very least we can do. In addition to praying for them, we could contact them occasionally, to encourage them and let them know we’re praying for them. I know if I were on the front lines, I would want to know I’m being prayed for.

I guess I should mention voting, although I would hope in America that’s a given. Some Christians refuse to get involved in elections, saying they don’t want to choose “the lesser of two evils,” as if that will make them more virtuous in God’s eyes. I could be mistaken, but in my view, refusing to choose the lesser of two evils is letting a vote for the greater of two evils go unchallenged. Again, we are not saving the world, but we are trying to slow down its demise.

In ancient times, God judged whole civilizations according to the actions of their leaders, even though the citizens had no say. How much more will we be accountable, when we are blessed enough to live in a country where we have a voice? True, we may feel our voices are being limited. Nevertheless, we should prayerfully use whatever influence we have been given, whether it’s in voting, writing letters to a leader or editor, or showing up at a city council or school board meeting, as the Lord leads, and conducting ourselves “in a manner worthy of the gospel.”

As for getting involved in the debates of the day, whether in person, through letter writing, or on social media, I have a few criteria for speaking up, and otherwise I try to keep my mouth shut.

1.) The issue must be one that is important enough in the grand scheme of things that it’s worth the time and effort put into the discussion.

2.) I should know that the person I speak to will listen intelligently and that it’s possible (s)he may have a change of heart. Trying to persuade a closed-minded person is wasted time I will never get back, and I’m not getting any younger.

3.) I must be knowledgeable enough about the subject. I don’t want to find out later that I said something that wasn’t true. I would rather stay silent on political issues than lose my credibility and hurt my testimony on more important (eternal) subjects.

Needless to say, after using that checklist, I usually opt to say nothing – to people, that is. Talking to God is always appropriate.

Prayer: Lord, You have called us to be in the world but not of the world. Help us to follow Your lead, always speaking and acting in a way that honors You, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

When is Waiting Not Waiting?

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27:4

Do you remember when the people that brought you food at a restaurant were called “waiters” and “waitresses”? I don’t know when I first noticed that they are now called “servers,” but I guess that makes more sense to people, since the word “wait” denotes sitting around, and we certainly don’t want to see that going on with employees at an establishment where we’re dining.

So, where do you suppose the phrase “wait on” came from in the first place, as in “I wait on him hand and foot!” Serving, it would seem, involves everything but waiting.

Long ago there was a certain kind of servant in a noble household, called a “lady in waiting.” These servants were women or young girls whose job it was to serve a lady (possibly even the princess or queen) in any way she needed it, at any moment. For this reason, a lady in waiting might not be busy every moment of every day. She might spend most of her time just “being there” for her lady, ready at a moments’ notice to meet her needs.

I remember a prayer retreat I attended when we lived in St. Louis. I was expecting the speakers to deliver messages regarding how to make a prayer list, setting aside enough time to pray, and checking off each item, as more prayer requests come in and the list gets longer and longer … (I get mentally tired just thinking about it.)

To my surprise, the theme of the weekend was almost the opposite. I was introduced to the concept of “meditative prayer.” (You mean I don’t have to be constantly saying something?) We were coached to focus in on Jesus, to make our spirits rest in His presence, and just realize His holiness, His perfection, and His love for us. For some of us it was a challenge to let go of our to-do lists, our thoughts of what was going on back home, any guilt we felt about not being there taking care of our families, and our own sense of importance – the notion that things would fall apart without us. (*eye roll*) But then if we truly believed God is all-powerful, we should be able to trust that He can take care of our families without our help for a couple of days. (And He can give us discernment to find the balance between trust and laziness.)

One passage of Scripture that illustrated perfectly what I took away from this weekend was the account in Luke 10 of when Jesus went to the house of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. A lot of us were able to identify with Martha, who was frantically busy, wanting everything to be perfect for Jesus and His entourage. But Mary, much to Martha’s dismay, was not helping her sister but instead was sitting at Jesus’ feet. When Martha complained to Jesus (the One she was allegedly trying to show hospitality to!) the Lord gently told her she was stressing about so many things, but only a few were necessary – really only one. Mary had chosen that one thing, and contrary to Martha’s implied accusation of laziness, Jesus commended Mary for recognizing what was really important and availing herself of it.

(We were at that retreat to learn to be “Marys.”)

The following is an excerpt from my book “BARRIERS – So, if prayers are so powerful, how come mine don’t get answered?” This passage is in the chapter about the barrier of misdirected attention:

“We aren’t told how Martha responded. I hope she took the hint and sat down with her sister, but whether or not she did, Jesus had made His priorities crystal clear. Serving is good; relationship is better. Besides, neglecting relationship for the sake of serving can bring one dangerously close to the belief (conscious or not) that we are, at least partly, saving ourselves through our dedication to good works. But as I hope has been made clear in Chapter One, we are saved because of what Jesus has done for us, not the other way around. Acts of service are an outgrowth of the love relationship we have with Him.

“Serving. Relationship. We can (and should) have both! But serving begins with relationship. It’s a matter of focus. Martha was focused on doing things for Jesus; Mary was focused on Jesus. All you Marthas out there, consider this: If Jesus’ throat got dry from teaching and He wanted a cup of water, whom would He have asked? It wasn’t Martha. Jesus would have had to (a) find out where she was and (b) flag her down to let her know what He wanted her to do.

“No, I’m guessing He would have asked the one who appeared to be “doing nothing,” who was making herself available to serve Him at any given moment. “

(Excerpted from “BARRIERS – So, if prayers are so powerful, how come mine don’t get answered?” by Ann Aschauer, Chapter 2)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we are so used to the notion that we have to work for everything we get and that our worth depends on our level of performance! Could it be that You offer us salvation and a relationship with You without cost? Is it true that You are delighted when we simply focus on You and bask in Your presence – when we just love You and allow You to love us? Stop us in our busy tracks today, and help us to let go of everything but You. In Your name, amen.

Keep Questioning

In honor of Question Evolution Day tomorrow (Thanks, Jimmy and Clyde*), here are some thoughts on questioning.

After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. – Luke 2:46

It was my middle school biology class, second semester. We had spent a good portion of the first semester learning the basics of just what is meant by “science” – what can be observed with our five senses, the difference between “observation” and “interpretation,” and cause and effect – that everything that happens has a cause and every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, nothing happens in a vacuum, nothing happens “just because.”

Now we were getting to the fun part – actually studying LIFE! I was excited to learn just how these bodies of ours worked. I knew we were incredibly complex creations, but according to that day’s lesson, we weren’t always as complex as we are now, nor were we “created,” per se.

Our teacher was saying that in a primitive life form “a mutation occurred.” We had already given up trying to figure out how that first life form came into existence out of the primordial goo, and I guess no one was willing to ask. But I didn’t want to go any further with this narrative without understanding exactly what happened after that mysterious emergence of life form. So, I innocently asked, “What cause the mutation?”

The teacher responded by explaining how the mutation benefitted the organism, and how subsequent organisms with this mutation survived more often than those without it, so they eventually overpowered and outnumbered the weaker, less evolved organisms. That made sense but didn’t answer my question.

I asked again, “What caused the mutation?” She again talked about what happened as a result of the mutations. She seemed eager to get on with the story about how that tiny thing became something bigger and more complex, so when I asked a third time, “But what caused the mutation in the first place?” she sighed with exasperation and said, “It just happened, OK?”

I didn’t have the guts to ask how that lined up with what we had learned first semester, that nothing “just happens.” (I did want to pass that class, after all.) 

That was more than fifty years ago, but I remember it clearly. It was my first clue that possibly not everything I was learning in school added up or was complete. I was certainly not omniscient, but then neither were my teachers.

I sometimes look back on this episode in my life, as I see debates heating up today. I’ve seen Christians, including myself, getting sucked into losing battles, and now I’m thinking maybe we don’t have to be. Maybe we’re allowing ourselves to be on the defensive, when the burden of proof should be on the non-believer. Maybe we should ask them to explain why they believe what they believe? Besides, if we do this with a respectful, open-minded attitude, it can demonstrate to others that we are interested in their views and not just wanting to spout our own opinions.

There’s a place for telling my story, and I for one lean toward that way of witnessing. It’s hard to argue with. (You can’t tell me what I experienced didn’t happen. I was there.) And yet, it’s not all about me.

What kinds of questions could a Christian ask an atheist?

“If there is no intelligent Designer, how do you think complex systems like photosynthesis, metamorphosis, DNA, and immune systems came about?”

“Why do you think so many people believe in a higher Power? How could our finite minds invent something greater than ourselves?”

What kinds of questions would you ask someone who believes in God and heaven, but not in salvation through repentance and receiving forgiveness on the basis of Jesus’ death on the cross to pay for our sins?

“Do you believe heaven is a perfect place? Do you believe you are perfect?” [assuming they say “yes,” heaven is perfect, but “no,” they aren’t] “If you and the other imperfect people are allowed into heaven with all your imperfections, wouldn’t heaven stop being a perfect place?”

“If Jesus’ death didn’t pay for your sins, how else can there be both forgiveness and justice?”

A question for someone who wants to earn their way to heaven by doing enough “good deeds” to outweigh their “bad deeds”:

“How do you know when you’ve done enough?”

I’m sure you can think of more good questions. Please tell me (ask me) in the comment section.

Finally, please don’t think of evangelism as a debate or battle of wits. It isn’t. The cleverest debater can’t save a soul, and the most primitive communicator could see a soul saved before his eyes after the most mundane explanation of his faith. That’s because GOD does the saving. We can be used by Him to plant seeds of curiosity, engage a person in intelligent dialogue, and open the door for relationship that may someday result in their placing their faith in Jesus. But that will happen only when the Spirit of God draws that person to Himself. Our job, as Peter wrote, is to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. (I Peter 3:15a) He then added, “But do this with gentleness and respect...” (15b) I submit to you that having respect includes asking the other person to give the reason for whatever hope (s)he has, as well. Be willing to hear the other side. (In the words of NeedToBreathe, “Be more heart and less attack.”)

Most importantly, PRAY for others. Ask God to open their minds and hearts, present opportunities for them to hear about Jesus, and give you (or other believers) the right words to say. He will do that, and it will not be you speaking, but the Holy Spirit! (Mark 13:11)

Prayer: Lord, You created us, we didn’t create ourselves. Forgive us for the times we didn’t give You the glory You deserve. Everything we are, everything we have, and everything we do is all because You gave us life, gifts, and abilities. Speak through us to others who don’t know You yet and let them be drawn to You by Your love that shines through us, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

*

Always Has, Always Will.

But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children – with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.   –   Psalm 103:17

As I was praying one day, “putting on my spiritual armor,” I was taking up the “shield of faith” (Ephesians 6:16) and thanking the Lord for giving me that shield at such an early age. It had occurred to me long ago that the Old Testament refers to God’s faithfulness as our shield and fortress, as well. (Psalm 91:4) And that faithfulness was with us long before any of us came to our own faith. I have included this awesome truth in my daily meditations for some time now, thinking on the wonder that God’s faithfulness was with me before I was ever born.

Lately I pondered the meaning of Psalm 139: 15-16: “When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.”

Wait, “the depths of the earth”? – Could that mean that God knew me, even before He created the first human being from the dust of the ground?

Yes, I believe it does. God’s Word declares a love that began even before the creation of the world – “From everlasting to everlasting!” That means from eternity past!

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the concept of eternity future – that God’s kingdom will never, ever, ever end.

But even more, the thought of eternity in the past – that there was never a beginning – is enough to make my head explode.

Does the fact that I can’t comprehend the eternal aspect of God’s love hurt my faith any? Not at all. In fact, I would be suspicious of a “god” that I could comprehend completely. Eternity is just one facet of God’s character that I marvel at, that will probably have me in a state of wonder forever.

This is the shortest post I’ve written in a long time! But I trust it is packed with blessings for you, just knowing that GOD LOVES YOU!

He always has, and He always will.

In other words, there was never a time when He didn’t love you!

Prayer: LORD, of all the truths we find in Your Word, could any be more precious than this, that You have loved us with an everlasting love? We realize we don’t deserve Your love at all, and that realization makes us all the more grateful. As we bask in that infinite love today, refine us and make us what You want us to be, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Distraction or Direction?

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” – Isaiah 30:21

I shared in my last post my struggle with borderline O.C.D and A.D.D. Being an obsessed perfectionist, I have long struggled to “let go and let God.” On the other hand, my distractibility makes it obvious that any striving for perfection on my part is futile. If anything good is going to come out of my life, it will be God doing it.

And He does. I have told many stories of how the LORD has worked wonders in my life through me, in spite of me, and occasionally using the very traits that I sometimes think render me unusable. For example:

When we were living in Manistee, Michigan, I went to St. Louis to visit my parents with our first child, Joanna, who was a toddler at the time. Since I never left home without my guitar, it was a juggling act getting through the airports, including a changeover in Chicago, but I wasn’t about to take the risk of checking either of them.

We had a great visit with my parents, and on the last day we were having a long conversation in the kitchen, when my A.D.D. mind was starting to stray. A radio was on at low volume, which everyone else seemed to be able to ignore. But not me.

Over our talk of the next day’s travel plans, I was hearing snatches of the news, and it wasn’t even the kind I had any interest in. Still, I couldn’t tune it out. The announcer said something about a bill that Congress was going to vote on the next day, a bill with letters and numbers that meant nothing to me. I only understood the word “bill.”

Or should I say “Bill”?

Let me tell you about my friend Bill.

When we had first moved to Manistee, I volunteered at the hospital there to go room to room with my guitar and sing to anyone who wanted a song or two. It was fun for me and a nice break from the medical routine for the patients. I made some nice acquaintances, and on rare occasions I would meet someone special, and we would develop a lasting friendship. Anna Moloney was one of those.

Anna was a cancer patient, tiny and pale, but with a smile and a glow about her that made it a pleasure to be in her room. She never dwelled on her disease – never mentioned it. She was mainly interested in others. She loved anything I sang, but she also had favorites, and when I sang a song that had an Irish melody, she loved for me to sing it with an Irish dialect. In fact, she insisted on it. She even coached me some; “Not ‘you.’ Sing ‘ye.'”

Over the months I knew Anna, I had a close up view of the journey she and her husband Bill were taking. We sang together, but we also prayed together, sometimes joined by a young worker, Gil, who seemed to have grown attached to Anna, as well. She was like a grandmother to him.

The day came when I showed up at the hospital, and the first person I saw was Gil, looking as though his world had just fallen apart. He told me Anna had passed away that morning.

After Anna’s death, Bill and I kept in touch. Since neither my parents nor Marty’s parents lived in the area, and since Bill’s children all lived in the Chicago area, he became like another dad to me. He would take me out to lunch, even though I was in the first trimester of my pregnancy with Joanna and sometimes couldn’t bring myself to eat much of anything. After Joanna was born, Bill was as excited as my parents and Marty’s, and after they had gone back to their respective homes, Bill became like a third Grampa. When Joanna was old enough to be left a for a few hours, Bill, who lived right across from the hospital, would watch her while I made my rounds singing, and when I was finished, I’d go to his house, where the highchair was pulled up to the table, and the three of us would have lunch.

It was nice having a “grampa” for Joanna, but when Bill told me he was moving to Chicago to be with his own children and grandchildren, I understood. We kept in touch by mail (Snail mail! Remember that?!), and I found Bill had a way with words, with his Irish wit, that was so engaging I couldn’t throw the letters out. I still have a stack of them in a drawer.

One day his letter had the bad news that now his daughter, a young mother, had cancer, and Bill was asking for prayer. He was also questioning the goodness of God. He kept asking, “Why her? Why not me?” And he really would have traded places with her, if he could.

As it turned out, he did.

Within a year, his daughter had been healed, and Bill was the one with cancer. I was sad that we lived far apart now and could only write him letters.

So, in my parents’ kitchen in St. Louis, with the news droning on about some bill in Congress, it occurred to me – Bill!

He’s in Chicago!

I have a four-hour layover in Chicago tomorrow!

To make a long story short, I made a few phone calls, and the next day Joanna and I were picked up at the Chicago airport by one of Bill’s sons and dropped off at Bill’s apartment, where the three of us had a wonderful visit, complete with singing and praying together, just like old times. I was then picked up by his daughter and whisked back to the airport in time to catch my flight to Manistee.

It was the last time I saw Bill before he went to be with Jesus.

P.S. I never found out if that bill passed in Congress. Don’t care.

Prayer: Lord, thank You for the creative ways You drop ideas into my distracted mind and guide me in this serendipity of life. Thanks for blessing my life today. And give my love to Bill. Amen.