Friday, May 19, 2017

Handling Snakes and Moving Mountains

Today I was writing out a donation check.  The problem is that I’m having a hard time believing in the possibility of any good thing happening through my puny gift. 

My paycheck was small this week, almost embarrassingly so.  I work as an assistant to my son Caleb, helping him with his business.  He pays me 10% of what he earns each week.  That is our agreed upon arrangement.

Week to week his paycheck fluctuates.  Since this was a low income week for him, my pay amount was less than usual, too.

Yet, I write this check using my pitifully small amount of faith and address it to some far away organization.  Someone there will then distribute it somehow in an even farther away country.

I’m thinking about belief.  About faith.  Sometimes believing is easy; others it’s darn near impossible.

But faith – that seems to be the stuff that pleases Jesus.  Believing in what we don’t see at the moment.  Believing in His goodness and His ability to pull off miraculous things – things way beyond our ability to imagine.

A few days ago I was mindlessly scrolling down my Facebook feed, reading all sorts of updates and articles from who knows where.  I came across two interesting stories, one right after the other, and they’ve got me pondering on this belief/faith thing.

In the first article, an Australian man reported an incident of concern, including a photo of his experience.  He had gone out walking on his property one morning.  Seeing a stick in the walkway, he instinctively reached down to remove it from the path.  At the last moment he recoiled in horror as he realized the “stick” was a long, venomous snake.   The gentleman was not harmed, just shook up.   Upset enough, in fact, that he had to share his adventure with the entire Facebook world.

Frankly, I don’t even know why this story was Facebook-worthy.  I traveled to Australia in 2004, very aware of some of the alarming nature-oriented statistics before I went there.  As I hiked through some of the forests and other areas where dangerous creatures are known to exist, my senses were on hyper-alert.

Australia is home to 5700 different animal species.  Eighty percent of those are found nowhere else in the world.

Scientists are sure there are 100,000 different insect species in Australia, but think that there may be actually as many as twice that number. 

Odds are good that if you are bitten it will be fatal, because Australia has more creatures that can kill you than anywhere else on the planet. 

Ten of the world’s deadliest snakes live there, and all five of the other most lethal creatures in the world are located in the northeast state of Queensland.  There you may come across the Inland Taipan (the most venomous land snake on the planet), the Belcher’s Sea Snake (100 times more toxic than the Taipan), the Cone Snail, the Box Jellyfish, and the Blue-Ringed Octopus.

Therefore, I had no trouble believing an Australian man would find a snake in his yard.  It’s almost a given.  Watch your step.  Be careful.  They’re there.  Somewhere.  Sometimes. 

My belief came easily.  Faith one might find a snake in an Australian yard?  Yes, I have that. 

Then I read the Facebook article that immediately followed the Australian report.  In this article, a Christian missionary woman was reporting about a recent crusade in some other land.  She recalled that many people heard the preaching and responded by deciding to follow Jesus for the rest of their lives.

Many people at the crusade gathered for healing prayer also, and this missionary prayed for a girl who had been deaf and mute.  The girl was fully healed, and following her obvious return to full health, she pledged her life to Jesus.

My belief came with a little more difficulty.  I do have faith that God heals, but I just don’t usually witness such dramatic, instantaneous healings first-hand.  I usually hear of them or read about them happening elsewhere, in other countries.  It’s a little harder for me to believe this type of healing will occur when I pray, then that a person will gradually be healed (yes, by God) while taking a dose of antibiotics.

I want to believe.  I really do.  I have faith that Jesus can do the same sorts of miracles today that I read about in the Bible.  I do. 


This morning I read this:  “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”  (Luke 17:6)

As I ponder on those words Jesus spoke to his disciples, I try to see into my faith-o-meter.  It’s reading zero on a scale of one to one hundred.  If I’m truly honest, I cannot in any way, shape, or form imagine praying for the movement of a mulberry tree from one place to another, and actually seeing it happen.  Or a mountain, either, as Jesus has said in other references.

Maybe the key here is size.  Jesus talks about the size of a mustard seed, which is nearly invisible (and probably so with my bad eyesight!)  I only need a teeny, tiny amount of faith, and I need to be willing to tiptoe out on that scrawny limb of it even before I’m sure it won’t break.

Maybe the other thing here to remember is that He is the One who does the stuff, not me.  I know I am nothing.   I have no special powers to heal humans, move trees, or rearrange topography.  Heck, I can barely carry a full laundry basket up to the second floor.

Maybe my best plan of action is to imitate the apostles.  Right before Jesus talked about mustard seed sized faith, they exclaimed, “Increase our faith!”  (Luke 17:5)  I can ask for an increase, too.

Maybe what I really just want to do is throw myself into His arms and say, “I don’t understand, my Lord.  I don’t have a great pile of faith.  I don’t know how stuff works and how You do what You do.  I want to see miracles, but I want You more.  I trust You.  I believe You.  You are my Jesus, my Lord, and I will follow You wherever and however, as long as I have life on this earth.  Miracles or not, You are worthy of every breath of the rest of my life.  You are with me and that is all I want and need.” 

Monday, April 10, 2017


Easter week.  It's the last week of Jesus' life, and it has not gone as the disciples thought all along it would.  Not one iota like they'd thought.

He has told them all along he would be going.  He's been specific in saying he'd be turned over to the authorities, tried, and unfairly convicted.  He's even been quite clear that he will be put to death.

Yet they haven't believed.  Maybe their coping mechanisms won't allow them to believe.

Jesus has assured them, too, that he will rise from the dead in three days, but apparently that's just too much for them to fathom.  Dead bodies don't just come alive again.

Even though they've seen with their own eyes Jesus raising three others from the grave - the widow's son at Nain, Jairus' daughter, and Lazarus - it's easier for them to deny in their minds what he is saying.  He won't really die.  They want him here with them.

Now.  Always.

They've left everything to follow him, they've fallen in love with him, and now they can't imagine life without him.

And then, exactly as he told them, at the end of the week it happens.

He is arrested.  He is "processed."  He is brutally crucified.

With their own eyes they watch him die a horrific and torturous death on that rough, wooden cross.

His body is taken away, anointed and wrapped, and buried in a cave.  A huge boulder is rolled in place to seal the cave entrance closed.

Three days later it happens.  He rises just as he had said he would.  Nobody sees it happen in the moment, but his followers clearly see that his grave is now wide open and empty.

It's too much to believe, and they simply don't.

"When they heard that Jesus was alive and that [Mary Magdalene] had seen him, they did not believe it."  (Mark 16:11)

"Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either."  (Mark 16:12-13)

They didn't believe.  They wouldn't believe, for it didn't work in their human capability to understand.

But let's give those disciples some slack.  Are we any different than they were?  Is there anything harder to believe than a dead person (who they all saw crucified then died) coming alive again?


But Jesus is capable of doing all that we just cannot comprehend or even imagine.  He is God, after all.

He can make a way when there is no way.

He can heal when there is no hope.

He can provide when there are no resources.

He can create when there is nothing.

He can love the unlovable.

He can bring the dead to life.

He just...can.

If He can raise himself from the grave, why would we not trust him with everything?

When I think of all he did on that historic day, and everything he has miraculously done in my life since then, I cannot not believe.

And that is what he is after, in the end.  Belief.  He wants us to be with him forever, because he loves us that much.

"Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."  (Mark 16:16)

Now that's unbelievable, but I choose to believe anyway.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

How Well Do You Know Yourself?

As we approach the Easter holiday, I've been  reading the accounts of the events leading up to Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection in the Bible.  Today, as I read parts of Mark chapter 14, I wondered about Peter, one of Jesus' best buddies for his last three years.  Peter, the big-talking, burly buffoon-like fisherman.

Peter has experienced so much with Jesus in the three years he has followed Jesus.  Miracles of all sorts - healings, resurrections from the dead, violent storms calmed, whopping catches of fish, unbelievable food multiplications, walking on the waves, and so much more.  Oh, to have had these experiences right in the physical presence of Jesus!

Yet Jesus knew, when the pressure would come, that even after being through all of that with him,  Peter would deny knowing Jesus.  Jesus describes exactly how this denial will happen.  Peter thinks he won't do so and vehemently denies that it will happen as Jesus says.

Yet it does, for Jesus knows Peter better than Peter knows himself.  The scene goes down just as Jesus has said it will, and Peter does deny Jesus three times.

Let's step back and look at the larger picture, though.

1.  Jesus wanted Peter with him in the Garden of Gethsemane as he prayed and awaited his arrest.  He loved Peter so much.

2.  Jesus knew all along that Peter would deny him.

3.  Later, Jesus placed Peter in charge of the new church, in spite of Peter's shortcomings and failures.

The reality is that He knows our thoughts, our inclinations, our history, our flaws, our failures, our everything.  In spite of all of that and just like Peter, He wants us with him, AND he trusts us to accomplish important things for Him.

How well do you think you know yourself?

Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves.

Our past, our flaws, and our failures do NOT disqualify us!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Giraffe Midwife Needed?

April, the giraffe, is ready to give birth any second now.  Her belly is as huge as a barrel.  I've become fairly obsessed intrigued by this giraffe and by the whole process of readying for a large animal birth in a small rural zoo.

Located in the Animal Adventure Park, a small interactive educational animal park in Harpursville, New York, April and her pregnancy saga have captured my heart and the affections of hundreds of thousands of You Tubers around the world.

From the moment I learned of the giraffe who "is about to deliver at any moment,"  I've been glued to the live camera feed of her onYou Tube, watching her a ridiculous amount of hours each day a lot.  By this point I've been monitoring April for 4 weeks, 5 days, 3 hours, and 24 minutes.

My April addiction began while I was eating my lunch back on February 22 of this year.  So, the way I see it, by now I'm practically qualified to be her birth doula.  I'm sure I know her that well.

In fact, all I have to do is put an "a" in the Google search bar.  I've searched "aprilthegiraffe.com" so often, checking her progress and wellbeing, my search engine takes me right there.  Heaven forbid if I wanted to learn something about albatrosses, or albumen, or any other "a" thing.  I'd have to actually type in the whole word.

During this long season of waiting, I've learned all about giraffes and their birthing habits.  Surely April's veterinary, Dr. Tim, would be grateful to have me as his quite competent assistant.  I'm possessed now with a wealth of information, just due to all the other giraffe birthing videos I've watched and internet articles I've read.

April and Oliver, necking
Oh, and I know all about April's relationship with her boyfriend, Oliver, too.  I'm on top of that.  April is 15, and this will be her fourth baby.  Oliver is only 5, and this is his first offspring.  So actually, April is a cougar disguised in giraffe spots.

Furthermore, we can truthfully call Oliver a deadbeat dad.  He won't have anything to do with the raising of this calf.  The only thing male giraffes worry about is mating and dining.  Repeat, over and over.

April is currently about 2000 pounds, a healthy weight for a 14 foot tall pregnant giraffe.  Oliver still has a bit of growing to do before he is a full grown bull.  He weighs in at about 1600 pounds now and is only about 12 feet tall.  He'll enlarge to about 2600 pounds at a full height of about 18 feet.  These are large animals, to be sure.

April with Alyssa, her favorite keeper
I really should be there, for I bet nobody knows her behavior patterns like I do.  I've studied what she likes, how she flings her hay over her shoulders, how she moves, when she lays down, and which keepers she responds to the most.  I've learned what every different sort of tail raising indicates - peeing, pooing, itching, fly swooshing, irritation, moodiness, or pressure.  And don't go pressing hard on her left side up there in the middle - she doesn't like that.  She will kick you or give you a whopping tail smack.

I know when she needs food, snacks, enrichment, attention, vet checks, and clean flooring.  Alyssa is her favorite tender.  I suppose I'd agree to working alongside Alyssa to help April give birth.

I'm been watching all the progress towards April's impending delivery, and I know she's getting very close.  The hubby and I often talk over dinner about the "signs."  Our conversations are peppered with comments like "increased backend swell," "aggressive baby movement," and "wax caps still present."  (Wax caps cover the holes at the tips of the teats to keep the nutritious colostrum fluid in for the baby's first nursing.)  We're onto all of it.  Ask me at any moment of the day, and I'll give you the most recent update.

Look closely for those wax caps
Ultimately when it's baby time, we're gonna see hooves protrude out April's backside, if her birth goes according to the normal pattern.  This emergence of baby's hooves will be the only sure sign that she is in active labor.  Giraffes instinctively hide all other signs of labor.  In the wild they don't want to do anything that alerts predator lions and jackals near to a vulnerable new baby.

So I wait.  I watch.  I check.  I fret if my internet craps out for a few moments.

How long will we still have to wait?  Good question.  The zookeeper tells us that a "witnessed" mating" occurred back in mid-October of 2015.  Giraffe pregnancies typically last 15 months, so the birth window was calculated to be mid-January to mid-February of 2017.  Hence the live camera was placed and started filming the "any moment it could happen" event in mid-February.

Well here we are in late March, no baby.  Since then the zookeeper has deduced that the first witnessed mating apparently "didn't take," and perhaps a later coupling did.  Not only that, but giraffe delivery due date windows take the estimated due date, plus or minus 50 days!

With so much watching and waiting, April and her child-to-be are just such a part of my life now.  They're practically my family.

Zoo officials say the live camera feed will continue for five days after the birth and then will be taken down.

What?  They can't just cut me off like that!  I'm gonna need some sort of an intervention after this is all over.  That feels like too abrupt of a transition for me to gracefully, emotionally handle.

Well anyway, this gal here, this giraffe-midwife-wannabe, is hoping all goes well for April and her baby.

And it better be soon.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A Day of Hunting, Catching, and Killing

Today I feel much like Alexander.

That is, the Alexander of that well known award-winning children's book by Judith Viorst, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Everything today seems to be going miserably, and I'm feeling out of sorts about all of it.

It all started last night when the hubby and I had a heated and unsettling argument.  No, let's call it what it was - a fight.  How is it possible for a husband and wife to have such a nasty row when we were in agreement about the issue?  I guess it all comes down to the semantics and their delivery, folks.  I tell you - they're killer.

Probably because of the argument (no we didn't kiss and make up before going to bed), I slept poorly.  Restless much of the night, I suffered through a cinema reel of bizarre and messed up dreams.

I stayed in bed later this morning than usual, because, well, I was just tired from that miserable night.

In general, I don't do "early morning" anything easily.  This morning, though, I didn't do "later morning" well, either.

And, I was out of K-cups for the coffee maker.  In that vein, let me just state that I do not possess a big enough mug for the amount of coffee I felt was required this morning.  Today I could have used the maxim magnum monster mug.

Along with feeling generally out of sorts, today I'm not feeling physically well.  An old and persistent ailment is giving me pain.  Pain that I could really do without.

I did valiantly try to get on with my day.  I tried to be productive and to get some work done, but business issues are continuing to confound me.  I have this mantra that EVERYTHING IS FIGUREOUTABLE, but at this point I haven't figured out one iota of it.

I'm feeling lonely.  (Usually I do whenever I have an argument with the hubs.)  I sort of feel like I might as well go crawl in a hole and just eat worms.  Nobody loves me.

And besides that, for the life of me, right now I cannot remember the last time somebody gave me a word of encouragement.  There.  That's obviously proof that nobody really cares about me.

I should probably just go and run away.  To somewhere, anywhere.  No, I don't really do any running these days; I'll just walk out.  Get out of here.  Get away from my problems.  Actually, now that I think of it, those old achilles wounds are bugging me.  I'll just limp away to somewhere and sit and lick my wounds.

Today, I'm pretty sure I am an insignificant, worthless specimen of the human race.

Yup.  I know now how Alexander felt.  It's one of those days.

It's on days like this that I need to pack up my gear and go hunting.  A day of hunting, catching, and killing is what's needed to alleviate what's ailing me.

At times like these when I'm about to slip over the edge of that crumbling precipice and fall headfirst into that black vortex of discouragement, isolation, and depression, I need to hunt.

Here's how I imagine it:  When the destructive thoughts begin flooding my mind, I imagine myself leaving my physical body and hovering up somewhere in the air space above my brain.  (I know you're probably thinking I'm crazy it's a stretch, but stick with me here a bit.)  That's where the "hunting" happens.

I've got my fancy schmancy weapon in my hand for the hunt, for I'm ready to "capture" those deadly thoughts.  I picture them coming out of my head one by one, just like those individual thought bubbles you see in the comics.

My weapon looks sort of like a superhero-sized butterfly net.  Destructive thought emerges.  I swing, flail, chase, swirl, swoop, reach, scoop, and do whatever it takes to "capture" it.

Then the "killing" happens.  I swiftly fling that thought, the one I've trapped in my net, with every bit of strength I've still got, up against the wooden cross.  That big one - the one onto which Jesus was nailed and bled and died for me.  The cross that is now empty, for Jesus conquered death, too.

When my captured thought slams against the cross, it is immediately soaked in the blood of Jesus there, absorbed, and then eliminated.  I'm free of it.

The "killing" continues until all those thoughts are captured and gone.

Today has been a heck of a hunt.  Plenty of warfare, capture, and killing.  I'm pretty beat up, but I'm gonna be fine.

Here's the reality.  My personal way of visualizing this thought battle may seem silly, but look at this:

     "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."  (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Furthermore, I've come home with no trophies from this exhausting day of hunting, for I've left them all with Him, and he's disposed of them.

He is the trophy, and I have HIM.  For that, I am so grateful.

     "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things."  (Colossians 3:2)

I think Alexander just needed to learn to hunt.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Miraculous Provision

This morning during my quiet coffee time, I read portions of Mark 6, specifically the account of Jesus feeding the 5000 and the subsequent record of Jesus walking on the water.  (See Mark 6:30-44 and Mark 6:45-52.)

It is easy to read these two incidents quickly, to zip through them speeding onto the next thing.  If you’re like me, you’ve heard these two familiar stories over and over, many times since those early childhood Sunday School classes.  I remember coloring activity pages of five bread loaves and two fish, then cutting the shapes out, tearing them up, and putting the tiny, torn pieces into baskets my teacher had conveniently brought along.  We then pretended to be amazed at how the bread and fish had multiplied.

But really, what does this story of the feeding of the 5000 tell us today about PROVISION?

Here’s what I think:  Jesus provides what we need, when we need it.  Miraculously.  Period.

And, we usually don’t recognize it.

The feeding miracle as recounted in Mark 6 takes place far from other civilized areas.  Jesus had gone there with his guys, after all, to get away from all the chaos surrounding them and to rest.  They were in a remote place – no local cafes or restaurants, and certainly no food trucks rolling in right around dinnertime.

Miraculously, using five loaves of bread and two fish, he “cooked” up a satiating meal for thousands!  This is not in the same league as Gramma’s Thanksgiving spread for a whopping table of 25.  No, Jesus is feeding possibly as many as 15,000 or more, when you add in the women and children to the 5000 recorded men.

I can’t explain how he did this.  This is not just some sort of sleight of hand.  He doesn't have enough secret pockets in those tunics of his to hide food for thousands.

Those people in the crowd couldn’t have imagined this special meal was going to happen.

The disciples, even though seeing the food pass through their very own hands, didn’t get it.  (See later in verses 51b-52, and again at their “retest” in Mark 8.)

Even today, we don’t get it.  We don’t look for and expect his miraculous provision. 

Yet, he still loves to provide, to bless us.

I know that is true in my own life.  Just last week I headed up into the mountains to our family’s lodge for a little getaway, to a “quiet place for some rest.”  (See verse 31b.)  The lodge is in a remote place – seven miles off the nearest paved road, way back into the woods.

I had $0 cash in my wallet when I arrived there, yet miraculously I left there with $170.  No stores, no banks, lousy non-functioning satellite internet - just unexpected PROVISION. 

One relative gave me cash to help cover food I had purchased for all of us.  I had not requested help, nor had expected it.  Another relative gave me cash for a donation for several of my books.  I had not been counting on this money, either.

By miraculous, timely PROVISION, I had money then in my wallet to cover me on the next leg of my trip.  After leaving the lodge, I made a road trip which required cash turnpike tolls and meals along the way for several days.

Some people might attempt to explain away this miraculous PROVISION.  Others might claim I had been irresponsible by not bringing any cash along when I certainly knew I’d need it.  Yet others may find alternate ways of explaining away his provision to me.

They can all say what they want.  They can believe as they choose.  As for me, I want to watch for and recognize these delightful gifts from my Father.  I don’t want to miss a thing when it comes to his miraculous PROVISION to me!

Lord, keep my heart from being hardened by what goes on around me in this world.  Help me to always seek you and see your ways at work in my life.

The disciples were (as we are too!) dense as doorknobs.  They didn't get it.  Watch for their "retest" later in Mark 8...

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

What Will YOU Remember?

The Alamo
A few days ago, the hubby and I returned home from a wonderful five-day sightseeing vacation to San Antonio, Texas.  We had a great experience, but I’m left with some things to ponder.

Leaving the winter temperatures and dreary gray skies of central Pennsylvania, we were hoping for lots of sunshine and warmer days in Texas, and we were not disappointed.  Also, we were looking forward to experiencing a new place and learning some more tidbits of our country’s history.

The River Walk
Using our rental car, we made our way around the area and saw all the sights and sounds on our itinerary:

The Alamo
The San Antonio River Walk  
River Walk Boat Tour
The four other missions along the Missions National Trail and in the Missions National   Park
            A two-day on/off double decker bus tour of San Antonio
            Breckenridge Park
            The Pearl Brewery
            Buckhorn Saloon and Wildlife Museum
            El Mercado (The Marketplace)
            La Villita (Old Town part of San Antonio)
            The 1968 World’s Fair Tower of the Americas
            Dinner at Rudy’s, a Bar-B-Q joint famous with the locals

San Antonio On/off Bus Tour
As we traveled home, I was pondering over all we had seen, heard, and tasted. My thoughts traveled back to other trips I’ve taken in my lifetime, and I sorted through the memories I have from them, too.

It occurred to me that my memories of each trip are frankly quite limited, yet the ones I have are very specific. 

Oh yes, I took plenty of photos and purchased oodles of post cards while on those trips.  I created elaborate scrapbooks of my journeys, which are now….somewhere. 

I bought plenty of souvenirs on those trips, too - things that seemed so “necessary” to have at the time.  All those carefully made purchases are now…somewhere.

I worked hours before each trip, planning and carefully crafting and studying my itineraries.  After those trips, I saved all those travel papers and trip brochures, so sure I’d want to look over them again and again.   But the reality is they are now…somewhere.

I don’t know where all those things are, and if I’m being totally honest, at this stage of my life they don’t matter.  They’re just things.  I have the MEMORIES, and that’s so much better, even though my memories are condensed down to just a few visual images and impressions from each trip.

Some of those trips happened as long as fifty years ago, so it’s no wonder my brain has sifted and sorted and only retained a few recollections from each.

From my first Disney World Trip, I remember the flying ghosts of the Haunted Mansion and that one pesky dwarf of Snow White’s who seemed to be following me everywhere.

From a Bermuda trip, I have pleasant recollections of skootering around the island and visiting a little boutique perfumery en route.

From San Francisco, probably the best fish and chips I’ve ever had there on the wharf and a meal at Tommy’s Place, a quirky little eating joint.

San Diego – riding the glass elevator in the hotel with my brothers

Tijuana, Mexico – bright lights and lots of gaudy colors and clothing

Norway – fjords

Sweden – a meal of crawfish and caviar

Denmark – a large carousel

Alaska – glaciers and bears and Tammy – a beautiful lady trapper

Venice – pigeons and a stinky gondola ride

Australia - digiridoos

I could go on and on.  I’ve been certainly so blessed to have had so many fine traveling experiences.

My point is that of all the things I’ve seen and experienced, my mind has captured and kept just a few limited things from each trip, and that’s enough.

"Homeless Jesus" statue
Thinking about this most recent trip to San Antonio, Texas, I believe that twenty years from now I’ll remember three things:  The Alamo, The River Walk, and the many homeless people I saw everywhere we went.

Yes, I’ve seen homeless folks before in larger cities, but I don’t typically see them in my small hometown.

Frankly, seeing so many obviously hungry, sick, and mentally ill people living on the streets in such wretched conditions wrecked me.  I drifted off to sleep each night with them on my mind.

I’m compelled to give this issue more thought and lots of prayer.  What should be the Christian’s response when actually meeting these people face to face?

Oh for sure, I’ve given money to organizations working to alleviate and heal the people living in homeless conditions.  Yes, I've done that, even though it seems like such a drop in the bucket when I read that we currently have about 2 1/2 MILLION homeless people in our country. 

But it’s different when they are standing six inches in front of you, looking you in the eyes, and begging for help.  You see them, you smell them, you wonder what to do.

Ironically, throughout the week of our vacation in San Antonio, I was reading a book by Mike Yankoski, Under the Overpass.  It is an enlightening account of the six months he purposefully lived as a homeless man – one month in each of six large cities of the United States.  He and a buddy undertook the adventure as a social experiment.  They wanted to study how the Christian community is reacting to the homeless population of America.

This homeless issue is truly messing with me. 

Note to self:  Pray more about this.  What specifically does God want me to do when I am confronted by a homeless person?  How shall I be ready next time I travel to another big city (or anywhere the homeless may be found)?  How can I help without aiding addiction? 

Must.  Pray.  More.

Friday, February 24, 2017

What Part Do You Play?

Our church just began rehearsals this  week for the next production, "Titanic, the Musical."  When I first heard what it would be, I chuckled and asked myself, "Doesn't everyone know how that ends?"  I did learn later that the musical does not follow the story lines as depicted in the popular movie of the Titanic voyage.

An introduction to the musical and some background and historical information were given to the entire cast and crew the other night.  Then last night all the players gathered to participate in the first script read through.

Afterwards, the set builders also revealed some of their vision for the sets and scenery.  This team has quite the ambitious task ahead of them, as they plan to build a hydraulic lift that will tilt the sinking ship in stages to nearly a 45 degree angle, allowing for mass chaos and passengers slipping down into the sea.

Son Caleb will be playing three male characters in the program, which will require some intricate logistics relative to costume changes, linguistic changes, and outcome details.  That is, two of the characters he plays will die as the ship sinks, and the third will survive in a lifeboat rescue.

A character, as you can see
He will take on the persona of Third Officer Pittman, who assists the Titanic's captain and helps look after the passengers.  Later he is The Major, a non-British war veteran who loves to tell tales that not everyone else loves to hear.  Apparently The Major provides a bit of much-needed comic relief.  Caleb's third character is simply called the Fourth Man, a poorer traveler staying in third class (cheaper) accommodations down below in the ship.

At the end of the rehearsal last evening, the cast members were given the assignment to research their characters and to learn every detail they could find in order to more realistically and accurately bring each character to life.  Each has a vital part to play in order bring the story alive.

This all got me thinking (which can be a very wild adventure!)  Thinking about the part each of us plays in this life here on earth.

What is our place in this story of life?

What is your character in the whole scheme of things?

What is my role in these few decades I'll have here on earth?

Sometimes I think it's awfully easy for us to think quite more highly of ourselves than we ought. In fact, we are routinely encouraged by everything in our society to do so.  Be honest now - aren't there more than a few people you know who fully think themselves to reign in the center of their world?  Part of this may simply be due to immaturity, but then how do you explain all those adults who are still convinced they're at the center?

Here's the reality, friends:  I am not the main character.  You are not the main character.  The story is not about me, and it's not about you, either.

As much as we may slip into erroneously thinking and acting as if we are at the center of our universe, we are not.

It's about Jesus.  Everything is about Him.

He is the star of the "show," He is the center of it all, and He is the best main character ever.

He's the Redeemer, and I am the redeemed.  No one could write a better story line.

When I remember that, I'm perfectly content to make much of him, to let him take center stage, and to do all I can to point all the attention to Him.  I'm OK to get small, to get really, really small.  He is the One who is fully worthy of every applause and standing ovation there ever was or will be.

Thank goodness He's invited you and me to be secondary characters in this greatest story ever written.

Come to think of it, I think it'll be a bowing ovation for Him...

           "...at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."  (Philippians 2:10-11)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Wanna Get In on the Debate?

Sometimes I just don’t get the Faith and Works conversations I read about and hear among the Christian community. 

Some insist it is possible to have a strong faith, yet not show it by works.  Think about those isolated monks, living in foreign monasteries up in the mountains of who knows where, spending all their days chanting and praying.  Are those the works that honor Jesus?

Others claim that in doing their frequent good and honorable works, the resultant sense of well being causes faith to grow.  But what initially motivates one to do those good deeds?  Guilt?  Fear?  A politically correct sense of “I oughta?”

Many years ago, on my first day in the first grade, I met Sylvia.  Sylvia and I became inseparable best friends, and to this day we are grateful for the special relationship we have had all throughout these years.

Sylvia and I often had sleepovers at each other’s homes, and as I spent more and more time with her family, I learned that her mother got up before the sun rose each morning and baked a pie.  Later she would know of someone who needed to receive her pie of the day – perhaps a shut in or someone just needing a little encouragement during a rough spot in life. 

It was the same every day.  Bake a pie.  Take it to brighten someone’s day.  Lemon meringue was her specialty. 

One evening, Sylvia’s mother was taking Sylvia and I to the local ice skating rink for the evening where we would skate and hang out with friends.  In a classic and memorable act of gracelessness, I stepped up into the car, placing my left foot smack dab into the center of a waiting lemon meringue pie sitting on the floor in the back seat. 

Open car door, insert foot
It was on its way to brighten someone’s day, and I had literally squashed that pie and plan.  I should’ve known though.  I should’ve looked first.  She took pies every day, and we all wondered what continually motivated her to do so.

Frankly, I say this Faith and Works debate is senseless.

When you’re crazy nuts in love with someone, you want to do anything at any time to please that person.  You go out of your way to do things that will bring that person joy and happiness.  No expense is too great; you will be extravagant in a way that matches your feelings for that person.

And so it is when one is in love with Jesus.  It is inevitable that your actions will follow. You simply cannot resist showing Him your love by doing those things that make Him happy.   You will spare no expense to achieve those things that matter to Him.  Whatever is important to Him is now important to you.

Ponder on a few thoughts from James:

            “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have
            faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother
            or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them,
            “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their
            physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not
            accompanied by action, is dead.

            But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith
            without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  (James 2:14-18)

So then the question I must ask myself is this:  Does my life show my faith in Christ that is clearly demonstrated by a life of “love” deeds?  Is there convicting evidence that would prove I’m a lover of Jesus?

I suppose the jury is still out on that case.  It should be a non-debate, though, according to what I see in the Scriptures.