Monday, May 29, 2017

Another Look at The Savior's Sandals

An ordinary pair of worn leather sandals
scented with the odor of sweat and dirt
from a thousand miles walked.
Not the offensive smell one would expect,
but the sweet fragrant offering of
His duty, love, and determination
to sit among and to save His children.
The straps torn and mended in many places
by a loving mother or dedicated disciple,
or perhaps by His own calloused hands.
His very footprints molded into their soles 
from years of service in walking His path.
Day after day, they laid themselves down
upon the rocks that would slice His heel
and the burning sand that would grind at His feet
as He traveled where ever the Spirit led Him,
perhaps even to the foot of the cross.
Oh that I could walk the way of His sandals.

This post started in the strangest of places – with a prompt to write a poem about a pair of sneakers. Since Jesus didn’t own a pair of Nike’s, I wrote about his sandals instead. As I was writing the poem, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between my life as a disciple and the position his sandals held.

The sandals Jesus wore were nothing special. You couldn’t pick them out of a display of first century sandals if your life depended on it. What made them noteworthy enough to merit a poem was that they belonged to Jesus. Where he walked, they went. Often, I make a joke about being just a secretary or just a high school graduate and therefore nothing special. However, in my service to Jesus, I am uniquely special. He chose me and walks with me daily, guiding me along the path he wishes me to travel through life. It’s his presence alone in my life that makes me acceptable in the presence of a Holy God. And of course, it is always good to remember, that like everything else on earth, the Father has put me under Jesus’ feet.

As you know, my life has been torn apart many times and each time God has mended and renewed my life. He made me new in his power, by his will, sometimes through the actions of those he put in my life. As I journey through life with Jesus, he is molding me every day to be more like him – through the situations I encounter, the people I interact with, in the study of his Word and in prayer. As his disciple, I am called to emulate him and as his child, I am growing to resemble him more and more each day. I’ve given to him my heart and my life and he accepts my service in the offering. My desire is to serve him as he wills me to, even to the cross.

Here’s the catch – it’s so much easier to express and even intend the kind of commitment we as children of God are to have than it is to actually live it. His sandals didn’t wake up some mornings and say, “Today, I just don’t feel like doing it” and then force themselves to go with Jesus. I, however, do and because Jesus continues to give me the ability to say “no” so that my “yes” means that much more, I struggle in my desire to always follow Jesus. Perhaps the struggle itself is what makes my “yes” such a cause for rejoicing in heaven.

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from ourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:8-10

Monday, May 22, 2017

What I Learned at the Zoo

A couple of people have mentioned to me that they had or were going to the zoo which brought to mind my own visit several years ago. I went back to read the post I wrote and felt it just as applicable today as it was then. I hope you enjoy this look back at some of the similarities I found between being an animal at the zoo and being a Christian. Enjoy!

While looking through the pictures I took there, it occurred to me that there are many similarities between the zoo and my life as a Christian. At the zoo, the animals are in their own engineered environment that looks and feels a lot like their native habitat even though that might be thousands of miles away. These habitats will never match the beauty or afford the freedom to the animals of their native habitats. Still, these animals have adapted to their environment and go about daily life as if they were in Africa or China, or the North Pole. While they may seem to be self-sufficient in their habitats, the animals must ultimately rely on zookeepers and veterinarians to care for them and provide for their needs. Throughout the day, the animals are constantly being looked at and watched by hundreds of curious people who are on the other side of a protective wall wanting to learn more about these strange and exotic creatures.

As a Christian, I too am a stranger in a strange land. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, but my home is heaven. However, there is love and generosity, kindness, empathy and respect to be found here on earth just as in heaven. God is God and Jesus is the Savior anywhere on this planet as in heaven. His Spirit in my heart and his presence in my life enables me to adapt to this earthly residence and live my everyday life as if I were home. I can love God and love those around me here, as I will in heaven. But someday when I go home, I will know a freedom that I cannot experience here and now.

I work to earn money to buy food and clothing and secure shelter and transportation, but I rely on God to provide for my needs. It's because of God that I have a job (literally - I'm a church secretary) and that there is food to buy, and so on. I rely on God to care for me. When I feel lonely, I know that I am not alone because he is always with me. I turn to him when I am sick or when my world turns upside down. He teaches and guides me. He loves and nurtures me.

There are many non-Christians that I encounter in my daily living who pay attention to my actions trying to learn more about how and why I do things. This relationship with God that I have is unfamiliar and foreign to them and they want to learn, so they observe how my relationship with God makes my life different from theirs. Some are mildly curious and just gawk at the differences without trying to understand them. Others are very interested and, trying to understand, ask questions.

Many of them do this from behind an invisible protective wall that they've erected (This God-stuff is okay for you, but it's not for me. All religions are the same. If God is so good...). Sometimes the wall is put there by me (I don't have time. I don't want to get hurt. That's not my spiritual gift.). The Bible says that we are not to be of the world, but we are to be in the world. So I guess that means that the walls need to come down. Can you imagine that at the zoo? Complete chaos and fear. And in that scenario, Christians are the dangerous animals. That might explain the hostility we see toward Christians in many parts of the world.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Ordinary Everyday Triggers

This last week has been bittersweet. The week of Mother’s Day usually is. This day set aside to celebrate our mothers affords me the opportunity to make a special effort to tell the woman who raised me that I appreciate and love her deeply. It’s also a smack-in-the-face reminder that all that are left of my mother-son relationship are the fading memories. Sometimes, ordinary things will trigger a memory so vivid I am transported in my mind back to that moment. The "My Mom is the Greatest" teacup he gave me one Mother’s Day over twenty-five years ago brings me back to the five year old that wanted to see me use it. It’s been used and washed so many times that the words are now faded, but the memory is as clear as the day he gave it to me.

Scarecrows in the fall remind me of his twice-a-day, every-day-for-six-months fascination with the Wizard of Oz and how expertly he had copied the Scarecrow’s song and dance complete with hay (Easter grass) falling from his shirt when he fell. Sometimes it’s so real, I laugh and cry at the same time.

I started to wonder if there are ordinary things in my life that “trigger” a realization of my relationship with Jesus. I thought of rainbows that remind me of God’s promise that he will never give up on me. When I see a mother cradling her baby, I feel the love and security of being God’s beloved child. Butterflies trigger a sense hope and of being a new creation in Christ.

So this week, I’ve decided to search for all those precious ordinary things in my life that trigger a sense of God’s presence.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 
Jeremiah 29:13

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Stories They Will Tell

When [the Ephesian Elders] arrived, [Paul] said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace."
Acts 20:18-24

Yesterday I heard of two young adults from my community whom I never met that died last week. I listened to stories about them from people who knew them. It occurred to me that these two people, without trying and without knowing it, made an impression on the people telling the stories. We all do. Day after day I go through life doing what I do, most times just trying to get by, and whether I mean to or not, I am making some kind of impression on the people around me. I decide what that impression is by the way I interact with them. With that in mind, I started wondering what people will say about me someday. What stories will they tell about me?

Now I’m not planning on leaving this earth any time soon, but my son's sudden death has taught me that all I have for sure is this moment, right now, to make that impression. What do I want my life to stand for? I want people to say about me that I loved Jesus and shared that love with them. I want people to be able to say that I inspired hope, love, and grace. If that’s really what I want people to take from my life, then that is how I must live my life. Each moment loving Jesus, loving them, sharing grace and spreading hope.

No matter the situation I find myself in, I need to filter my reaction through this focus—love Jesus, love others, share grace and spread hope. Not just in my calling but also when I’m running late or stuck in the slowest moving line and even when someone cuts me off in traffic, my demeanor needs to exude “love Jesus, love others, share grace and spread hope.” When someone I love hurts me or life just seems to be going against me, I need to hold onto and live out “loving Jesus, loving others, sharing grace and spreading hope.” That’s a hard thing to do moment to moment let alone for an entire lifetime. But it’s something I’m willing to put time and effort into because God taught me how to love abundantly and I have to share the love I have for him or I feel like I’ll burst. Jesus is the love of my life. He gives my life purpose and fulfillment. My relationship with him has made me who I am and I need to share with you this gift of life, of love, of hope and joy.

Jesus isn’t a silent partner in all of this. He will shine through my life despite my less than Christ-like moments.  I’m going to forget or selfishly disregard this personal mission statement at times. My prayer is that these times are few and far between and that these lapses in judgement won’t do too much damage to impression I desperately want to leave with each of you.

Everything you do today will leave an impression on the people around you. What is that impression going to be and is it the one you want to leave with them?

Monday, May 1, 2017

Holy Spirit Word Study 1 Cor 2:4-5

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. 1 Corinthians 2:4-5

I always find it amazing when God chooses to reveal his message, his nature, his plan for salvation and his desire to be in relationship with us through the most unlikely people. For example, I’m sure you’ve seen one of those social experiment videos that show the selfless generosity of a homeless individual who is given a sandwich and shares it with others. I am in utter disbelief that someone who has no idea if and when their next meal is coming would share the little food they have with another. I’d like to think I would do the same, but I don’t know that I would.

God has a history of picking the most unlikely people to work through in his mission and ministry to reconcile us to himself. I’m reminded of Moses who was a murderer with a speech impediment whom God called to be his spokesperson and lead God’s people into a future where integrity and submission to God’s will were the foundation of their nation’s identity.

Too often as humans, we look to the well-dressed, articulate, well-educated professional as the source of all wisdom. I’m not saying God doesn’t speak through well-dressed, articulate, well-educated professionals. I’m saying that we too often let our perceptions dictate who is creditable and who isn’t. When it comes to matters of faith, that criteria can be detrimental to our growth as disciples and God’s ministry through us in our world.

So how do I know who is creditable and who isn’t when it comes to statements and actions that challenge my understanding of faith. I go to the source—Jesus who is the Word of God in flesh. I go straight to the bible with an open mind and heart to see if this new idea that is challenging my faith is in line with who the bible says Jesus is. I ask the Spirit to reveal to me how I am to consider this new-found understanding. I discuss it with my inner circle of faith friends to look at it from other points of view. Ultimately, I rely on God to help me see the ideology, statement, situation, etc. in question for what it really is and ask his help to reject if necessary or accept and integrate it into my faith life as his truth.

God created me as an intelligent, creative human being with free will. I can’t be the unique woman he had in mind if I’m believing blindly in a religious platform because someone who has human credentials says I should. I also can’t be against something because some unlikely person is the source. If my faith can’t be tested and come out a stronger, more mature, more intimate understanding of who God is and who I am to God then it’s a faith not worth having.