Reblog and Refocus

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Luke 16:10

I have recently been trying to get news from multiple sources, thinking I could get a balanced picture of the “whole story” that way. I have made several observations:

There seems to be very little “discussion” or “dialogue,” only arguing, accusations, and name-calling. Not the most mature way to get a point across. It seems the only thing we call all agree on is that our society is more polarized than ever.

No one seems to be listening to any opposing views. If a dissenting view  is recognized at all, it is mischaracterized, either deliberately or without thinking. (Is anyone thinking? Or are we merely emoting?)

The most significant and frustrating observation is that people are trying to fight a spiritual battle with the weapons of this world, and that is a huge mistake!

Racism, hate, rage, violence, murder, theft, destruction of other people’s property – these are all symptoms of Man’s universal disease of the heart – sin. We all recognize this disease (more easily in others than in ourselves), but our approach to fixing it has been like sending all our troops to Utah when we’re under attack on the East Coast.

The hard truth is, hardened hearts cannot be forced to change. Some leaders may cave under pressure and make superficial changes. But is anyone’s heart any different? And if hearts are not changed, will we ever see the peaceful solution we want – or say we want?

Sinful people can only be changed by acknowledging their sin and receiving the forgiveness made possible by Jesus’ death on the Cross. Only then can sinners truly be transformed and used to bring about the greater spiritual change this country needs.

With all the current effort to change the world! I would like to reintroduce the idea of an individual yielded to God and used by Him to bring about true change, one day at a time, one life at a time.

This is not a popular approach, probably because it isn’t very dramatic, doesn’t attract a lot of attention, and doesn’t yield the instant results our impatient hearts desire. But the only person I have any control over is myself, and even there I am limited. I can choose to ask God to transform me, as only He can, and He usually starts small.

Today I’m reposting a story that illustrates how we can get so distracted trying to change the whole world that we miss opportunities right in front of us.

June 12, 2020 My Life in Our Father’s World
Unexpected Loss
Reblogged from Sacred Cynicism by Pastor Doug Ward
I met someone for the first time 2 weeks ago. He came to church, and then was here again last week. He was a nice man, and he greeted me warmly. We had a nice conversation, and I was hoping to see him again this Sunday. I wanted to get to know him a little better. From the limited conversation we had, it seemed that life had been a little rough. That was just a perception. I found out this morning that this man took his own life this morning.
This news is crushing to me. I had no idea he was in any danger. I wish that something I said last week would have steered him away from this decision, but I do not know if that was even possible. I wish there had been more time. There is a sense of loss this morning. It is not a loss based upon a past relationship, I had only just met him. The loss is the removal of what could have been. Conversations that could have happened. The news once again reminded me of a simple truth – we have no idea which people are holding on to their very last bit of rope. I think this is a good thing for each of us to remember. It would be a great thing if our culture remembered it as well. We are probably too busy yelling at each other to listen to any wisdom right now.

This gentleman told me he had been watching us online. He told me he was hearing things that helped him. I wish I had the chance to follow up with him. I wish I knew more about his story than I do. Here are some things I do know. I know that I have no idea of the pain that this man was experiencing. I have no idea what things he was battling. I also know that Jesus died for everyone, including this gentleman, and I know that grace is far more pervasive that I realize. I do not know how grace, this gentleman, and the resurrection all interacted these past few weeks. I will simply say I hope.
In this current climate when we once again have retreated to our positions to lob verbal grenades at those people over there, a host of people just like this gentleman walk past us. They are probably unconcerned with all of the shouting – they just know that they hurt. This gentleman, and countless others – need someone to notice, if only we would stop shouting, and posting to social media. I just know that I am diminished today by this news. His name was Don.

From Barb: The man he is talking about has been my friend & neighbor for 18 years. I am still in shock but I have hope that when Don breathed his last breathe, Jesus was waiting for him with open arms.

(Ann again) In closing I want to share a song by Josh Wilson that has touched me. Enjoy, and be encouraged to do great things, even if they’re little things.

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=dream+small+lyrics&&view=detail&mid=3F6648AF107A445333783F6648AF107A44533378&rvsmid=13587DF5D4EA5061AEEC13587DF5D4EA5061AEEC&FORM=VDRVRV

Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive me for having such a high opinion of myself that I think I can make a difference without You. Fill me again with Your spirit, and use me in whatever way pleases You, even if it’s in something only You and I will know about. In Jesus name, amen.

What Color Is Jesus?

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”                                                                                                                                                                                                            Isaiah 53:2

On my kitchen windowsill is a Christmas card I received a couple of years ago. It is a simple but colorful drawing of the Christ Child in the manger, with several shepherds kneeling in adoration. All the people in the picture are jet black.

Am I offended by the lack of historical accuracy? Not at all. Nor have I written back to the sender, saying “By the way, Jesus was Jewish, and the shepherds were Jewish, and that picture makes no sense.”

Nope. I love that card, because of who sent it and where it came from. The greeting inside is a hand-written note from one of my friends in Uganda – “To my favorite author.” Elsewhere in the note is written in big letters, “UGANDA LOVES YOU!”

Lately there has been some heated discussions regarding the question of “what color was Jesus?” This question was the basis for accusing whole cultures of racism, western European types in particular. It seems that some European paintings of Jesus show Him looking, well, like a European.

But then, why not?  I would expect pictures of Him in, say, a Mexican church to look more Hispanic. In Asia you can find pictures of Jesus looking Chinese or Indian.

There’s a reason for this, and I’m guessing those reasons were more theological than historical.

These artists were probably aware of where Jesus lived and died, and yet they decided to paint Him in a way that made Him more relatable to the people of their own culture. These artists weren’t ignorant. On the contrary, I would respectfully suggest that their critics are the ones who might be missing the point.

And what is the point? What is the message of the Incarnation?

The point is, the Son of God – God Himself – left His home in heaven to become one of us (“us” being Humanity).

As a Man, Jesus went through the same experiences we go through. He was hungry. He got thirsty. He experienced weariness and pain and loneliness. He knew fear and stress and the sting of other people’s hatred. He empathized, He grieved, He knew anger and frustration. These are things experienced by every person that ever lived, every color, in every era, and in every corner of the earth. He came for all of us – for black and white, Hispanic and Asian, Middle Eastern and Native American. And for every race, every nationality, every ethnic group, He took our sins upon Himself and took them to the Cross, where He died for the forgiveness of all of us.

One of my favorite outreaches, the Jesus Film Project has been showing the gospel in video form for decades. Their movie, “JESUS,” the dramatization of the gospel according to Luke, has been translated into more than 1800 languages! Until the pandemic shut down the world, small teams of technicians and evangelists would trek into the remotest places, set up their equipment, and show the film to whole villages at a time. The people would gather to watch and be mesmerized to see the gospel story played out in their language! Now of course when Jesus was on earth He didn’t speak in the tribal languages of these obscure groups, but that doesn’t matter to them. They watch, they listen, they understand – and they believe! 

SIDE NOTE: If you are a linguistics expert and want to get nitpicky about the language Jesus really spoke, you might want to rent “The Passion of the Christ,” where the dialogue is in the original Aramaic. (You might also want to make sure the subtitles are turned on.)

The Apostle John’s description of Heaven in Revelation describes a multitude of people that could not be counted, people “from every nation, tribe, people, and language.” (Revelation 7:9) I’m guessing none of those people got hung up what Jesus looked like when He walked the earth as one of us. Who knows? When we enter into eternity, He may show Himself to us in a glorious new color we have never seen before in this life! (Yes, my imagination can go wild when I think of entering eternity after leaving this finite world.)

The Incarnation is a profound reality, one well worth reflecting on.  John 1:14 says,     “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In these days of arguing about anything and everything, let’s focus less on the flesh and more on the Word.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for leaving the throne room of Heaven to live in this fallen world as one of us. Thank You for offering Your life for all of us as the perfect sacrifice. You paid the debt we could not afford, so our sins might be cancelled out and we might live with You forever. And now, as we place our faith in You, we can look forward to eternal life in Your glorious kingdom, along with Your children from every nation, tribe, people and tongue! What a glorious day that will be!  Lord, help us to focus less on the superficial and more on what’s truly important – how much You love us, how much we love You, and how much we should love one another in Your name. Amen.

Armed

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…                                                                                                                                                                    I Peter 5:8-9a

Michigan in summer is a beautiful place to walk and pray, and most mornings my little dog, “Mr. Hollywood,” and I walk through the woods and out to the end if the pier on Lake Michigan. While I talk to God and give Him my day, Hollywood lunges after squirrels and chipmunks and obediently sits at my feet when a car, jogger, or another walker passes. If the other walker also has a dog, obedience can be a bit of a challenge, but we try.

But all bets were off the morning a dog three times Hollywood’s size moved steadily toward us from one of the driveways. I could see its short hair sticking straight up along its back; it was clearly ready for a fight. Most alarming to me was the lack of a leash or any owner in sight.

Hollywood, ever the protector, braced his little body and snarled at the big dog, only enraging it more. I yelled at it to go home, but it lunged for Hollywood, grabbing him by the back of the neck. I’m embarrassed to say, I screamed like a little girl. Just then our neighbor came out and grabbed the assailant by the collar and dragged it back into the yard.

Thankfully, Hollywood was OK, due to the collar, harness, and plenty of fur where he had been grabbed. I voiced my concerns to the neighbor (What if the dog had attacked a child?) and asked him to tell the owner, who was visiting for a few days, to please tether her dog.

A day or two later, not certain the message got passed on, I wanted to avoid a repeat of the scene. I am not a fan of bullies, and I wasn’t going to let a bigger dog chew up my little buddy just because it can. In the woods I picked up a stick big enough to defend us with, and as we walked on, I held the stick in one hand and the leash in the other. We were not bothered again.

This was not the first time I had been assaulted on my prayer walk and probably won’t be the last. However, the attacks usually come in more of a spiritual form, such as a wandering mind. After the briefest conversations with the occasional neighbor we encounter, I have to intentionally refocus. Even with no one else around, my ADD mind has to fight distractions continuously.

For years the distractions came in the form of pain. If it wasn’t bad knees, it was a bad hip, or plantar fasciitis, or even corns that felt like bees stinging my feet.

I intentionally make most of my prayers ones of thanks. So whenever I set out walking and I’m not in pain, I start with thanking God for that.

One morning I was happily walking and praising the Lord out loud for His healing when my prayer was interrupted by a sudden, jabbing pain in one knee.

I sensed this was more than an assault on my body. I had gone from pain-free to scarcely able to walk in a matter of seconds – and just as I was thanking God that I had no pain! The first thought that came to mind was that the enemy of my soul was mocking my faith! The second thought was,

Fight back!

Those of you who know about spiritual warfare know that with all the defensive pieces of armor we have, we have one offensive weapon – our “sword,” the Word of God.

When Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, He fought back with Scripture. Every time Satan presented Him with a temptation, Jesus responded by quoting from the Old Testament until the devil left Him. (The account is found in Matthew 4, Mark 1, and Luke 4.)

So, as my prayer of thanks for my healing was interrupted mid-sentence by a shooting pain in my knee, I quickly searched my arsenal for a verse to wield against my enemy. I immediately thought of one that would reeeally bother him, and I couldn’t help smirking.

“… and Lord,” I continued out loud, “thank You for this pain in my knee! It reminds me of Your word that says, ‘at the name of Jesus, EVERY knee will bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father! * That means everyone, including the devil and his angels, will be bowing to YOU, declaring that You are Lord! HALLELUIA!

Instantly, the pain was gone.

I chuckled. Knew he’d hate that one.

It may seem today that the enemy is unleashed and winning. But believers in Jesus have the weapon to fight back – the Word of God, which says, among other things, “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.” (I John 4:4.) The more we hide that Word in our hearts, the better we’re prepared for the major battles, as well as minor skirmishes.

But what if you aren’t a believer in Jesus Christ, or not sure that you are?

“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”                                                                                                                                    (II Corinthians 6:2)

This world is in self-destruct mode. We see it all round us – hatred, war, disease, natural disasters – a lost Humanity. But it’s not too late to turn to God, repent of your sins, and ask Him to forgive you, save you, and make you a new creation. Do it today. No one is promised tomorrow.

A new world is coming, where Jesus will reign. All will bow down to Him; the only choice is whether we will do it willingly or unwillingly. As my daughter used to say, “You can bend your knees now, or you can get your knees broken later.”

The choice is yours. 

Prayer: Lord, thank You for making Your Word available to us. Help us take hold of it, hide it in our hearts, and live by it every day. In Jesus name, amen.

*Philippians 2:10-11

 

How Did He Know?!

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

I don’t remember much from college classes over 40 years ago, but I have a vivid memory from art history class that has come back to me lately.

A painter named Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was commissioned to paint a depiction of St. Matthew for a wealthy cardinal’s burial chapel. His first attempt showed a simple man being patiently helped along by an angel. The picture was not well received, as it made St. Matthew look too much like an ordinary person!

The artist’s second attempt was deemed more acceptable, with the saint looking nobler and the dictation of the gospel more dramatic and supernatural looking.

 

Although I liked both pictures, I remember thinking even back then that it was a shame to discard the picture of an ordinary man fulfilling an extraordinary task, as that is more the way most of us experience divine help.

As a believer for more than half a century, I have found times of supernatural events – bending or breaking of natural laws, dreams, visions, voices – have been very few and far between. Far more common in my life have been “coincidences” – those “What-are-the-odds-?” moments that never fail to delight me. If I were to have daily visions or hear God’s voice “coming out of nowhere” with unusual frequency, I’m guessing I would be deemed mentally unstable and relocated someplace where I couldn’t hurt myself or others.

Was it even likely the gospel writers took dictation directly from an angel? Possibly. God can do whatever He wants. But most of the stories told in the gospels are of events that happened with one or more of the disciples present, or others such as the woman at the well (John 4) who were likely to tell the writer what had happened. The gospel writers were merely writing down what they had seen and heard.

Still, as I’ve been reading the book of Matthew, a few of the details have caused me to wonder, “Wait a minute… How did he know that?”

I have been trying to imagine how each of the gospel writers might have gained the information they are telling, assuming that it was all by natural means. Of course, God can do miracles any time He wants to, but He is also very skilled at using people and things that “just happened to be” in a certain place and time.

In Matthew’s gospel we are told about Herod the tetrarch, who ruled over Galilee during the time of Jesus. Herod had stolen his brother’s wife, and when John the Baptist confronted him with his sin, John was imprisoned and later beheaded.

In Matthew 14, we are told that when Herod heard the reports about Jesus, “he said to his attendants, ‘This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead!’ ” (Matthew 14:1-2)

How did Matthew know this?

Our pastor said something last Sunday while preaching from the gospel of John that might help answer my question.

In John 4:46-54, Jesus had come from Judah to Galilee. A “royal official” came to Him and begged Him to heal his child, who was close to death. Our pastor reminded us that in Galilee a “royal” official would have worked under Herod.

Was it this official who told Herod about Jesus’ miracles?

Jumping over to the gospel of Luke, we find a list of the names of women who followed Jesus and supported Him financially. Among these women was Joanna, “the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household.”

How did the wife of Herod’s household manager end up following Jesus?

We might note that Herod, although a Jew, was a sort of puppet king put in place by the Roman government. The Jews of the day despised him, considering him a traitor.

But wait – weren’t there other people the Jews despised and considered traitors? – Oh yeah, the tax collectors. But Jesus actually chose a tax collector to be one of His disciples…

Matthew. 

We don’t know how long Matthew had been a tax collector before Jesus called him to be His disciple, but it seems likely he had connections with Rome, maybe even knew some of his fellow “traitors” who were part of the palace staff. Perhaps Matthew had told the royal official about Jesus’ miraculous healings, encouraging him to come to Jesus when his child was sick. Perhaps this “royal official” was Cuza, and his wife Joanna was so grateful for the healing of their son that she became a follower of Jesus.

Why would Jesus choose a despised tax collector to be one of His disciples? Why would He have allowed the wife of the household manager of one of His greatest enemies to follow Him? Why would He choose to accept a criminal on the cross next to Him to be one of the first to enter His kingdom?

(Why would He choose you? Why would He choose me?)

“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.”  (John 3:16)

That’s “whoever.” Whatever our race, nationality, situation, or time in history when we were born – none of it is a mistake. You are part of God’s strategy! Who are you in a unique position to tell the Good News? You might be the only one who can reach that person. Don’t wait for a vison, a voice or an angel – just keep your eyes open for that “divine appointment.” And when you see it, go for it.

Prayer: Lord, thank You for calling ordinary people like me to spread Your Good News. Help me not to compare myself to others, but to see how You can use me. Here. Now. Thank You for giving me everything I need to fulfill today’s assignment. I’m excited to serve You! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

It’s Not What You Feel

“Be faithful unto death … ”         Revelation 2:10

 

Fifty years ago I met the love of my life at the Casino.

(I know, doesn’t sound very romantic, does it?) The “Casino” was a snack bar in the Portage Point Inn where the kids could get soft drinks and snacks, listen to the jukebox, and play games like ping-pong and pinball. It was the favorite evening hangout of the teenagers that came to the little northern Michigan town from all over the Midwest in the summer.

When my family arrived after twelve hours of driving from St. Louis, it was the first place I wanted to go, knowing I’d find friends there that I hadn’t seen since the last summer.

I already knew Marty’s brother Dave, who was ten days younger than I was, but I had only seen his older brother from a distance and had been smitten by the tanned, dimpled face and sun-bleached hair. I had seen him emerging from scuba diving onto the dock in his black wetsuit and had watched him and the other college-aged guys playing volleyball. But I had never heard him say a word – and I almost didn’t that night, either.

As I walked into the Casino, there was the gang, crowded around a table that was just a little too small, and there in the middle of them was Dave’s cute older brother! My heart skipped a beat, and as sometimes happens when I’m nervous or excited, my mouth kicked into gear. I began to talk. Well, chatter, really – uncontrollably!

(“Help! I’m talking and I can’t shut up!”)

Marty was just sitting there with a slight, somewhat amused smile on his face. I remember going back to the rented cottage that night, smacking my forehead, and thinking, Well, Ann, you finally met Dave’s brother, and you blew it!

(Years later my mother-in-law told me that Marty had come home that night and casually asked her about the age difference between her and his dad, and she had known something was up.)

I was entering my senior year in high school and Marty his senior year in college. I was in awe of this “older man” and doubted he would be interested in a kid like me. When he offered to teach me how to scuba dive, I told myself he was just being nice. When he hung out with the high school kids instead of drinking with the other college students, I concluded, It’s because he’s not a drinker. And that made me like him all the more.

I’ll skip the sappy details. I finally figured out that he liked me as much as I liked him. And while I was terrified to introduce him to my sister Susie, who was closer to his age and had always been much “cooler” than I was, years later he told me I needn’t have worried.

“I could tell right away she was even more spoiled than you were.” (Thanks, honey… I think…)

Although our relationship seemingly started with “love at first sight,” there is no such thing. It was attraction at first sight, which does not guarantee a good relationship!

But happily, it doesn’t preclude one, either.

A successful relationship, whether with a spouse or with God, depends on commitment, not emotions. It involves making hard choices when one knows what’s right but doesn’t “feel like it.” Believe me, we’ve had plenty of those.

Decades ago I wrote a song for our anniversary. (A HUGE thanks from this technologically challenged blogger to fellow blogger Sue Love for helping me get the recording on this post.) As you plow through my nostalgia, I do hope you’ll catch the wisdom in the middle.

Anniversary Song (A Long, Long Time)

I remember the night I first met you
You seemed kind of quiet and shy.
You were special to me, but I didn’t want to be
Hurt again – I just knew you’d make me cry.
But I found out you weren’t like the others;
You were such a friend, so loyal and true.
And as summer turned to fall, I knew in spite of all,
I had fallen in love with you.

There was a warm wind and stars in the heavens,
And as your hand held tightly to mine,
Darlin’, all I could say was, “I love you today,
And I might for a long, long time.”

Well, some folks think that “love” means emotion,
So it comes and goes their whole life through.
Some folks never know that when the magic goes,
If you keep on lovin’, it’ll come back to you.
I was so afraid we’d lose the special feeling,
And someday we’d find our love wasn’t true,
But then God opened up my eyes and made me realize
Love is not what you feel, it’s what you do.

And so we stood side by side at the altar,
As our wills and God’s power combined.
With His help I could say, “I do love you today,
And I will for a long, long time.”

Oh, I thank the Lord for bringing us together,
As I recall our lives through the years;
Through all the moves, the jobs, the fun, with two daughters and a son,
He has brought us through the trials and the tears.
Now every trial’s a little bit less trying,
And every joy is deeper than before.
And I can truly say, in each and every way,
Every day I grow to love you more and more.

Now there’s a warm wind and stars in the heavens,
And our arms and our lives are entwined,
And I’m glad I can say that I love you today,
And I have for a long, long time,
And I will for a long, long time.

c 1987 Ann Aschauer

Prayer: Lord, thank You for Your commitment to us and our salvation – all the way to the Cross! Give us strength to show that kind of commitment to others – beginning with You. In Your name, amen.

Banished

So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.                                                                                                                                                                                 Genesis 3:23

 

Last week Marty and I started watching the Amazon series “Banished.” Seeing the “redcoats,” I thought at first it was a patriotic film in honor of Independence Day. But this series is set in eighteenth century Australia in a penal colony that would later become Sydney. .

Like most people, I knew that Australia was where British criminals were sent, but little more. I had never bothered to envision what life might have been like for them.

The storyline was one of constant oppression by one person or group toward another.

For example, an officer tells a soldier under him that there aren’t enough women to go around; he must “share” his woman. If the soldier refuses, he will be hanged, and she will belong to the officer anyway. (Women are property here.)

One convict, a blacksmith, routinely steals the food of another, simply because he is bigger and the others are afraid to resist him, leaving his victim to starve. When the starving man complains, the authorities claim not to believe him, only because they don’t want to lose their only blacksmith.

Time and again, one person pulls rank on another, simply because they can. Any offense, from murder to petty theft is punishable by hanging (with or without evidence). In the penal colony there is neither justice nor mercy, and anyone confronting the authorities with their hypocrisy is met with indifference – or punishment.

I have lived a pretty sheltered life and have never seen this degree of bullying outside the playground or movies. Having been raised in a loving family, it’s hard for me to fathom that kind of brazen selfishness so shamelessly acted out.

The theme of oppression is one that is strikingly relevant today. Certainly race has a great deal to do with the hostilities here in the U.S. But in “Banished,” interestingly, every character is white and English. Clearly something else is in play besides race, and that something could be summed up in a word:

POWER.

Throughout history, many have proven that they cannot be trusted with power. Given a little authority over another human being, insecure people become tyrants, treating those under them as their own personal property, manipulating them to benefit themselves, or just bullying to show off – because they can. Where there is no chain of authority, the power lies with the biggest, the strongest, or the shrewdest. Cruelty approaches the demonic when the bully not only doesn’t care about whom he’s hurting or what is right and wrong, but really doesn’t care if he’s hated. The basest appetites rule, and the one with the power has regressed to a point where he is hardly recognizable as someone who was once a creature made in the image of God.

“Banished” is an appropriate title for this series, because it’s about people banished from their mother country, and seemingly alienated from the human race, as well.

Recently there was a discussion on a local station about racial tensions and related events in the news. My friend Marilyn, a black woman on the panel, was asked what her views were on racial reconciliation. She replied that she really didn’t like the term.

“The word ‘reconciliation’ implies that there was once a good relationship that has been lost and needs to be restored,” she pointed out. “But between the races, there has only been the oppressor and the oppressed.” Interesting point.

The need for reconciliation goes much further back than this century. It even goes further back than slavery in the U.S. It  goes clear back to Creation, when God made people in His own image.

“God is love.” (I John 4:8) But Love needs an object. So the God of the universe created the first man and woman in His image, someone to lavish His love on. They enjoyed sweet fellowship with their Creator daily in the Garden of Eden – a perfect relationship in a perfect place. They had access to countless delights. All they had to do was refrain from eating the fruit of one tree.

But soon the couple were enticed to disobey, being persuaded that the God who had given them everything was somehow holding back something good. When they had tasted the one forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened, but it was not to see wonderful new things. It was to see their own sinfulness. Having been corrupted, humanity was banished from the Garden, and Mankind has lived in a fallen world ever since.

We blew it. Yes, “we.” Before pointing a finger at anyone else, we must consider that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) We all need reconciliation, but in our sin we have burned our ships, and there’s no going back without God’s help.

Here’s the dilemma:

God is just. We have all separated ourselves from Him and can’t return to a sinless state; “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)

But God is also merciful, and He loves us.

So, now what?

Jesus’ death on the cross was the only way God could act both justly and mercifully. Jesus paid the price we owed, the price we could never afford to pay for ourselves. Through believing in Him we can be reconciled to God and live forever in the home He has prepared for us.

All of us are criminals. All of us are rightly condemned. But pardon has been extended to us. We can accept it and go back to the Father who loves us. Or we can reject the offer and remain alienated and without hope.

Do we dare pass up such an offer?

Prayer: Lord, thank You for offering the pardon I desperately need but don’t deserve. I accept! Help me now to live the life You created me to live, in Jesus’ name. Amen

 

 

 

 

Privileged? Don’t Just Wallow in Guilt!

“From the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”                                                                              Luke 12:48b

The above verse has always convicted me; I’m privileged, and I know it.

When I was still quite young, my parents took me to see the film “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I was only in about fourth grade, but I was old enough to recognize “NOT FAIR!” when I saw it. I remember years later reading Black Like Me and seeing movies featuring scenes involving the KKK that made my blood boil.

Thanks to my church, I had an awareness not only of racial tensions, but also of the plight of children who had no homes, parents, or enough food. I thought of them with a twinge of guilt whenever I put coins into the little cardboard church bank, where I saved up for the annual Sunday school offering for the hungry.

Thoroughly aware of all my privileges (white and otherwise), I lived the first few decades of my life in guilt. When meeting new people I was reluctant to disclose where I lived or the private school I had attended. In college I dressed in the faded jeans and T-shirts that were the norm then. I went through occasional bouts of depression and self-loathing, and from the ages of 17 to 30 I battled an eating disorder.

I married Marty at the age of twenty. He was clearly a better man than I deserved, and although I was thrilled to be his wife, at times my unworthiness added to the guilt I was already feeling, until a certain moment of enlightenment.

Shortly after we had splurged and bought a new car, we were notified that we owed some back taxes that we had been unaware of. The amount seemed staggering at the time.  This was the closest I had ever come to having “financial troubles,” and I wondered if I was finally going to be transformed into “a good [poor] Christian.”

Well, Lord, is this when You’re going to teach me how to be poor?

I’d had silent conversations with God before, but they usually ran through my head with few surprises, so I was never really sure if it was the Lord speaking to me or just my imagination. But occasionally His answers were so unexpected I was sure the words weren’t coming from me.

Poor? [Chuckle] You haven’t learned how to be rich yet.

Huh?

Ann, you’ve spent your whole life apologizing for what I’ve given you! 

The answer startled me. I had to think about it for a moment.

Wow, I have … How ungrateful of me.

I confessed my ingratitude, accepted the Lord’s forgiveness, and vowed to be more thankful in the future. I gave the financial hiccup over to Him, and waited to see what He wanted me to do.

As it turned out, I didn’t have to do anything. The Lord solved the problem so quickly I almost sank into the guilt trip again. (Why do some people have such a hard time receiving grace?)

My hard-working husband got a promotion at work, and one of the perks was driving a company car. He told his boss thank you, but he didn’t need it, he had just bought a new car. His boss asked him how much he had paid and reimbursed him for the amount.

Which happened to be just what we owed in taxes.

I saw the Lord’s blessing differently this time – not as something to be ashamed of, but an opportunity to praise Him for His goodness. I underwent a major change in my attitude.

I had done volunteer work most of my life, starting with being a teen-aged “candy striper” at the children’s hospital. Through my twenties I did ministry of various kinds every chance I got. After my little revelation I continued doing ministry regularly, but for vastly different reasons.

Before, my motivation had been guilt and trying to make up for my privilege. As if I could somehow pay God back (Silly, proud woman!) and show everyone that I was really a good person, and please-don’t-hate-me. (Besides, it beat doing housework.)

Totally selfish motives.

Once I realized I could never repay God, my motivation changed, starting with acknowledging that Jesus had died for me, sins and all. In fact, my sins were why He died. Sin needs to be atoned for with a perfect sacrifice, and I sure wasn’t qualified to do that! So the Son of God, in His perfection, had laid down His life in exchange for mine.

Talk about a lavish gift … !

Now I still do ministry, but not to earn His love. I do it because I have His love. I want more than anything to offer Him back everything He has blessed me with, to make Him smile – to make Him laugh with delight! Marty’s career enabled me to be flexible with my time, giving to the community and being a positive influence with my students, using the gifts and skills given me throughout my life.

Past experiences – piano lessons, French, and my excellent education – all came in handy. (Mrs. Striker, who saw to it we didn’t pass seventh grade until we could write, spell, and punctuate perfectly, would be pleased with my blog, four books, and frequent letters to the editor.) Even my struggles with food, self esteem, and depression helped in working with youth.

Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) But “abundant life” doesn’t mean having a lot of stuff! It’s being able to enjoy whatever God has given us (tangible and intangible) and letting Him use it to help others. Like the loaves and fishes, Jesus knows how to multiply whatever we offer Him.

How much should we offer Him?

Everything. Because it’s all from Him in the first place.

Prayer: Lord, whatever You have given is sufficient for whatever You are calling us to do. You’ve blessed us. Make us a blessing to others, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

Guilty on All Counts

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;                                                                                   test me and know my anxious thoughts.                                                                                       See if there is any offensive way in me,                                                                                        and lead me in the way everlasting.”

                                                            Psalm 139: 23-24

I am guilty of racism. 

There, I said it. The latest thing these days is for all white people to accept the fact that they are part of the systemic racism that is plaguing the country. A couple of people I know (or thought I knew) have been encouraging me to take this view of myself.

At first the implication startled me. I wondered if any of my black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, or Asian friends had ever shared that opinion of me. If so, they never let on. I had never suspected it myself, although admittedly I’ve probably committed many sins I don’t realize or remember. Since I’ve had friends of all colors and backgrounds, have done ministry in various cultural settings, and have tried to love everyone the way Jesus would, I wanted to know where it was that I might have failed. I was told that since I questioned the idea, now my “defensiveness” was proving that this assessment of me was true.

(Please don’t misunderstand my confusion! I could make a long list of sins of commission and omission, failures and bad attitudes . I just wouldn’t have thought of “racism” as being one of them.)

But then I came across a verse of scripture that reminded me of something profound:

“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”                                                  (James 2:10)

*GOTCHA!*

I remembered then that we don’t have to be hardened criminals to be under God’s condemnation; one sin is enough to make us guilty of all sin.

So that means I am guilty of racism.

And lying. And cheating. And stealing.

And adultery. And murder. And blasphemy. And idolatry …

You name it, I’m guilty! And no amount of regrets, study groups, zoom meetings, marches, activism, or good deeds can make me “not guilty.” Even if they could, I would wake up tomorrow, and the first selfish thought – the first hint of envy, anger, or self-righteousness – would plunge me back into a guilty state. I wouldn’t want it, but I would be helpless to change it.

I’m apparently not the only one who has struggled this way. Paul wrote almost two thousand years ago,

“For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.”                                                           (Romans 7:18b-19)

So, as much as I want to be a good person, I can’t. There is nothing good in me.

– in just me.

But I have an Ally that I didn’t always know. When I was a hopeless sinner, Jesus offered to pay the penalty – to post my bail, so to speak – and die in my place. The perfect Man – God’s Son – who deserved nothing but good things, died a horrible death to break the power of sin in my life. Better yet, He didn’t stay dead – He rose back to life, the Victor over death, to open up the way for me (and anyone else who believes in Him) to have eternal life, as well!

Eternal life started the moment I confessed my sin and placed my faith in Jesus to save me. His Holy Spirit lives in me now and empowers me to live for Him, doing the good that was impossible for me do on my own. Any goodness in me is because of Him.  (Some of the best things He has done though me have been done without my even being aware of it.)

Anything evil in me … well, that’s the residual sin nature that I have to fight every day for the rest of my earthly life. The difference is that now I have a fighting chance! I may not have arrived, but I am going in the right direction, as He leads me and makes His will known to me day by day.

What about my “white privilege?”

I’ll be the first to admit I have been given all kinds of privileges, way more than I deserve, and I’ve been aware of them for a long, long time. The question isn’t how to get rid of my privileges, but How can I use whatever advantages I have to lift up the disadvantaged, to draw them closer to Christ and the “abundant life” I have known?

Jesus said,

“To whom much is given, much will be required.” (Luke 12:48)

In light of that convicting verse, I have a lot to do – and He will empower me to do it. It may mean getting involved in fighting racism. It might be in the area of serving refugees, helping the homeless, defending the preborn, doing music ministry in nursing homes and hospitals, writing more books, or living out the love of Jesus with one person at a time, one day at a time. His plan is unique for each of us.

What about my other labels – “Racist“? “White supremacist“? “Bigot“? (“Liar,” “thief,” “murderer,” etc.)?

Jesus has given me a new label: Child of God.”

I am free to identify with my Creator and keep my eyes on Him. My life’s goal is to be everything He wants me to be. With all due respect to the authors of the trendy best-sellers, I’m going to let Jesus define me. After laying down His life for me, He’s earned the right to call me whatever He wants.

Prayer: Father in heaven, You knew everything about me – my sin, my ingratitude, and my weakness, and You wanted me anyway. Thank You for paying such a heavy price to forgive me and adopt me into Your family. I am Yours. Make me what You want me to be, and use me to carry out Your purposes for me every moment of my life, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Easing Back Into Blessings

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.                                                                                                                                                         Philippians 2:4

Recently I had the privilege of being one of first invitees to come back to my church after eleven weeks of “attending” on line. We are coming back in limited groups, different people each service for a while; those who aren’t there in person can still live stream on line.

As much as I wanted to charge full speed back into church life as I’d remembered it, there were certain rules to be followed now, and I dutifully took one last deep breath of fresh air before donning my face mask upon arrival.

Although we all wore the masks from the moment we left our cars, we could still recognize one another. (I resisted the urge to say, “Trick or treat!”) Walking up the steps to the church entrance, it felt like forever since we had been there, and at the same time it felt as though no time had passed at all.

There was no cluster of people around the table in the foyer that usually held the bulletins, and the coffee stations looked sad with hand sanitizer in lieu of their usual fare. We walked directly into the sanctuary and picked up sterile bulletins from where we sat down. Every other pew was blocked off, and seating was spaced with 6-foot gaps between families. People were discouraged from using the rest rooms, which were limited to just one person at a time.

Watching a service on line, I had always sung along at home with the “socially distanced” worship team appearing across the screen (four singers, a piano, and a couple of guitars). I had sung with gusto, filling my living room the best I could. But somehow my “joyful noise” had been lacking.

However, that night at church when the music started with about a third of the usual congregation, I was overjoyed to hear us all singing the familiar songs again. I was surprised at how well our voices carried through the masks, complete with four-part harmony, some of us with hands lifted toward heaven. It felt like being in God’s throne room. Although it wasn’t close to the experience we used to enjoy, it was such a blessing just to be together again that I had happy tears in my eyes. Later I heard the pastor get choked up, too, as he led us in prayer.

I remember reading somewhere that when people have been starving for extended periods of time, it is a very bad idea to gorge on food as soon as it’s available. It’s reportedly healthier – and I would think, more gratifying – to take a little at a time and savor each bite, while the stomach gets used to being fed again.

Yes, I am REALLY looking forward to the day we can all gather again with no one left out, singing with smiles uncovered, enjoying hugs, hand-shakes, fist-bumps, high fives, whatever your thing is. We’ll “catch up” on one another’s lives over cups of coffee, while our children and grandchildren run around together, laughing and playing. We’ll lay hands on the sick and gather in small huddles to offer up impromptu prayers for one another. We’ll feast on the fellowship we’ve been missing during our times of isolation.

But for now, I’m happy to taste the morsels of joy I’ve missed so much  – the smiling eyes peeking out from masked faces, familiar voices, and gestures of “virtual hugs” from friends long absent. I’m trying to exercise patience and savoring the moments as they come.

If we take our blessings back one at a time, we have a better chance to truly appreciate each one, not to mention showing respect and compassion for those whose fragile health might still be making them uneasy about rejoining the community.

The fact that there are different opinions about the closing down of our society has become painfully obvious. It seems some people with opposing viewpoints are at each other’s throats, one side accusing the other of not caring if they die of Covid, and the other accusing anyone who disagrees with them of not caring if they go bankrupt and die homeless on the street. (I’m about to take a break from social media. I need a breather.)

I would describe myself as neither a terrified recluse or a defiant protester. As a friend used to say, “I’m a staunch middle-of-the-roader.” I believe and hope that there is a way to gather safely, to be the much-needed support system for one another, while at the same time being respectful of those who are still frightened of the virus.

(Sometimes I feel like I’ve had it, and I want to scream at the Corona virus, like a child having a tantrum, “JUST LEAVE US ALONE!!!” But obviously if that strategy had had any chance of working, someone would have done it by now.)

So for now, we take back our privileges as they become available, savoring each one, each moment, as a gift from the Giver of Life. As we set aside our preferences to show consideration to the needs of others, we have an opportunity to grow in the “fruits of the Spirit,” such as patience and self control.  With God’s help, we can benefit from the experience ourselves, as we can from every life experience when we give it to Him.

Prayer: Father in heaven, we confess that some of us get impatient with what we consider partial blessings. We long to get back to the full experience of fellowship with the Body of Christ. And yet we remember how Your Son Jesus suffered the separation from You as He hung on the cross to pay for our sins. Give us patience and a selfless, Christ-like attitude as we ease back into the blessed life we enjoyed and took for granted before – and may we never take it for granted again! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

 

Racism: The Cause and Cure, Part 2

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”                                                                                                                                                                                             Ephesians 6:12

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”                                                                                                                                                                                         Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Every day the news reports have been full of turmoil, anger, and anguish. Images of the murders of African American individuals, violence, vandalism, and robbery haunt us. A sense of despair has gripped our nation like another invisible virus.

But one day in Louisville there was a different kind of story on the local news, one that began as sadly as the others, but which offered some hope before it was finished.

A grocery store had been severely damaged and looted the night before. It had been the only source of food and medicine in the area, and now it was out of commission for at least several days. A group of compassionate people had come to help clean up the mess, and as they were sweeping up piles of broken glass, another sound could be heard …

A gathering of Christians stood in a circle in front of the boarded-up building, praying heart-felt and passionate prayers. Hands raised, they sang songs of worship. Moments later they were setting up tables and handing out bags of groceries to the people who needed them. These Christ-followers were not just helping out in tangible ways, they were fighting back against the spiritual forces that had fueled the hatred and destruction the night before. As I watched with tears in my eyes, a verse of Scripture came to me:

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21

This is what Christians are called to do – feed the hungry, bandage up the wounded, and give comfort to the grieving. We can make a difference, whether it is through social action, petitioning to have laws changed, combatting lies with truth, or offering comfort and hope to people who are feeling despair. It may seem that we are hopelessly outnumbered, but we have God on our side!

His help is always just a prayer away.

So, before we do anything else, we need to enter the Throne Room, pour our hearts out to the King, and let Him show us His plan. Otherwise, we’ll only be spinning our wheels as our own plans wear us out.

To the unbeliever prayer may seem like empty words, a waste of time. But believers know its power, because we know the One who answers those prayers. I could see that power in the joy that radiated from those Christian people both that day and when they came back the next day. As the reporter questioned them, their faces were beaming. All they wanted to talk about was the Lord.

https://www.wave3.com/2020/06/03/prayers-answered-after-kroger-reopens-west-louisville/?fbclid=IwAR1HzM_K-tilRiyESRUxm8Hdbvi2ntARVCO3wSojpXErY1qqEKX2dTnwIas

A few days later a video showed a multiracial gathering in my home town of St. Louis, MO. Believers had gathered under the St. Louis Arch to worship and spend time in prayer for the end of racism in the country, and for the love of Jesus to be poured out through them.

Then two days ago I saw a photo of people in Minneapolis being baptized on the street where George Floyd was murdered. Faces both black and white were smiling, and in their smiles I could see hope – Light piercing the darkness.

I am grateful to those who spread these glimmers of hope in a world where it seems “good news is no news.” I’ve tried to share these images as much as possible as an antidote to the hatred and rage that seems to saturate the nightly news and social media.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News! But first there is the bad news:

“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  (Romans 3:23)

In other words, nobody’s perfect … So what?

“The wages of sin is death … “ (Romans 6:23a) That’s eternal death.

No Justice, No Peace.” But how will we ever have peace if we get the justice we deserve?

Answer: We look to Jesus Christ, the only perfect Person who ever lived, who was willing to take our judgment on Himself so we could be forgiven and clean. The price had to be paid, and He paid it. “Bail,” “ransom,” whatever you want to call it – that’s the Good News! 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Galatians 2: 8-9)

PLEASE NOTE: although we may not be saved by good works, we are saved for good works. Anyone who calls himself a follower of Christ but doesn’t show it by his actions is only fooling himself.

“Faith without works is dead.” James 2:26

Sadly, in this world there will never be a complete end to racism, or for that matter any other form of sin, not as long as Mankind is terminally sin-sick and the majority refuse to accept the Cure.

Scripture warns us that when the righteous go against the current of evil, we will suffer for it in this world.

But none of that means we shouldn’t be faithful where we are and be a light in the darkness wherever we can, however small that light might seem.

No matter what is going on around you, you can work toward justice, equality, and better relationships between races, wherever, whenever you have opportunity. Just don’t forget the most important strategy of all – PRAYER.

It’s our lifeline – and our power cord.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, as we look around us, we can get so discouraged. Help us to look to You instead. We know that we can’t solve every problem in the world, but show us what we can do right where we are. May we bring hope and healing to those who are within our reach, and in doing so, glorify You, in Jesus’ name. Amen