What Remains of the Temple of Zeus

The Temple of Zeus was built in Athens, Greece in 470BC to honor the Olympian god Zeus. Zeus was the king of the Greek gods and the one who controlled thunder and sky. It took over 700 years to finally complete the construction because it fell into the hands of conquering peoples many times over the centuries.

The most impressive part of the temple was the magnificent golden and chryselephantine statue of Zeus, which is considered to be one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World. This 42 foot tall statue was made by Phidias, the most talented sculptor of ancient Greece, in his workshop in Olympia. Both the temple and the statue of Zeus were destroyed by an earthquake.

What temples have you constructed?

Your temple may not consist of over 104 Corinthian marble columns, but I bet you have built one or two in your lifetime. Temples are places where we worship things, spaces where adoration of gods take place, and halls filled with idols that we place on a throne where Jesus should sit. It’s not too hard to identify what your temple is: just think about the one thing you cherish most. What do you think about first thing in the morning and last thing at night? Where do you spend your time and money? Where is your attention going?

I know a man who has built a temple of adultery for himself. All of his time and effort is spent in this temple. His mind, his resources, and his energy are willingly given at the altar of this temple. Secretively, he slips in and out like a thief in the night, unaware and uncaring that his worship practice is destroying his family.

Another one brings her offering to the temple of resentment. Every day she gathers up alms of wanting what others have, begrudging relationships around her that are happier than hers, and feeding her resentment until it is a tall statue in her mind that blocks out the sun.

Still others worship at the temple of Netflix, work, InstaGram, neighbor disputes, gossip, apathy, anger, racism, narcissism, sloth….the temples are many and easy to build. If your daily thoughts are consumed with what you will eat, what alcohol you will drink today, flirting with that attractive co-worker, how you will go about getting high, shopping for things you can’t afford, how much you can’t stand someone, etc, you are in the construction zone of temple building. Anything that consumes your waking consciousness can become something you worship.

1 Corinthians 3 instructs us on the matter of building temples:

10 I laid a foundation like a wise master builder according to God’s grace that was given to me, but someone else is building on top of it. Each person needs to pay attention to the way they build on it. 11 No one can lay any other foundation besides the one that is already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 So, whether someone builds on top of the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, grass, or hay, 13 each one’s work will be clearly shown.

The day will make it clear, because it will be revealed with fire—the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. 14 If anyone’s work survives, they’ll get a reward. 15 But if anyone’s work goes up in flames, they’ll lose it. However, they themselves will be saved as if they had gone through a fire. 16 Don’t you know that you are God’s temple and God’s Spirit lives in you? 17 If someone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person, because God’s temple is holy, which is what you are.

“The day” that Paul refers to is the day of Judgment. On that day, we will stand before God and our work will be exposed to the flame of righteousness. We are God’s temple and God’s temple is holy. And so are you.

What does it mean to know that you are holy? Things that are holy are set apart and sacred. This is a reminder that your mind, heart, actions, and behaviors are sacred to God. If you build a temple where only the sacred exists, God will take his rightful place on the throne and your waking thoughts will only be about serving him, pleasing him, sharing him, living for him, and living through him.

The time in the scriptures where we see Jesus at his most angry was when he threw the money changers out of the Temple. They were guilty of conducting commerce (and likely cheating people) on the steps of the Sacred. This was intolerable.

If Jesus visited your temple today, what would he throw out? False gods bring false hope. Obsessive behavior and worshipping things that exclude God is false worship. Jesus would throw that stuff out. Go, and do likewise.

Photo by Kathy Kasperik.

Fetch or Keep Away?

A very hot run that I shouldn’t have done yesterday resulted in observing something quite special. I was rounding a cul-de-sac and noticed a little Jack Russell terrier coming bounding down his driveway, straight for me. I have been bitten twice by dogs while running, so my radar was UP. But this little fellow was running after a tennis ball that his owner had just thrown. The owner and his wife were standing in the shade of their garage overhang, throwing the ball from that relatively cool spot. I say relatively, as yesterday was a day that we “might as well be walking on the sun,” even in the shade. I had a thought to ask if I might come down the driveway and melt into a puddle as I watched them play fetch with their dog.

But as he bounded past me to retrieve and return the ball, Jack the Russell ran straight over to the mailbox and dropped it. Then I noticed a pile of about 30 balls there, and I realized that I didn’t know jack. This wasn’t fetch, it was keep away. His poor owner was down to his last two balls, then had to walk into the solar flare known as OBX in July and retrieve all the balls himself.

This is why I have a retriever. She may be bad to the bone, but she will bring you things: in fact, just this morning she tried to give a pair of my unmentionables to the HOUSE PAINTER. Geez, Georgia, this would have been a better time to play keep away!

In the book of Romans, Paul is laying the ground work for the new church to be a place where the gospel of Jesus Christ is not kept rolled around Torah scrolls and locked in a cabinet, but rather is shared widely and deliberately in the marketplace, on the roads, in the homes, around the tables….everywhere. The Jews were more accustomed to playing keep away. Their faith system depended on being born into the a Jewish family. Jesus’ radical ministry was a new thing, a game of round robin fetch: I have something I throw to you, you retrieve it and return it to somebody else, etc.

Romans 10:13 “Scripture reassures us, “No one who trusts God like this—heart and soul—will ever regret it.” It’s exactly the same no matter what a person’s religious background may be: the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help. “Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help.”

But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? That’s why Scripture exclaims,

A sight to take your breath away!
Grand processions of people
    telling all the good things of God!

But not everybody is ready for this, ready to see and hear and act. Isaiah asked what we all ask at one time or another: “Does anyone care, God? Is anyone listening and believing a word of it?” The point is: Before you trust, you have to listen. But unless Christ’s Word is shared, there’s nothing to listen to.

And whenever we throw out the word of God, it never returns to us void, but instead brings others into its fold.

Sometimes folks get the love of God in their hearts and just keep it for themselves. Sometimes churches think that the gospel hope they have is meant to bless all those who are within their own four walls. Sometimes we hold on to our resources, our testimonies, our ability to serve others, and our salvation, thinking it was meant only for us.

Sometimes we are wrong.

There is no keep away in the kingdom of God. He tosses out his very best in hopes that we will catch it, and share it with someone else. His very best was his only Son, so that whosoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life. But nobody believes and calls on a savior they haven’t heard about. And nobody can hear without someone sharing with them. And nobody can share without being sent. Those who go out to bring the good news are the beauty of the Lord.

Where are you being called to tell all the good things of God to someone today? Remember everyone who calls ‘Help, God’ gets help. Somebody near you is in dire need of help. Today is a great day to share the love of God with someone who desperately needs it. Don’t just keep it for yourself.

Lake Peachtree, by Kathy Schumacher.

Anticipation…

And then there was that horrible Christmas that my sister and I ruined for ourselves….

Melanie had discovered where the Christmas presents were hidden about a week before Christmas. That evening, when my parents went out, we went to their closet and found the stack of wrapped presents. We were post-Santa at that point in our lives, so the appearance and the source of such abundance was no longer a mystery. Neither were the contents, as we methodically peeled back just enough tape and wrapping to see what each present contained. I remember we squealed with delight at what we were about to receive, and that joy lasted about 30 minutes after the presents were carefully re-wrapped and returned to the closet. We realized that we had just taken all of the fun of anticipation out of Christmas, and the next seven days were likely to be very deflated. And they were.

But wait! Tomorrow we would drive to the train station in Philadelphia to pick up our grandparents! And they always arrived with an armload full of presents! Joy to the world, there would be some surprise come Christmas morning.

Except for some strange reason, my grandmother chose that year to wrap everything in white tissue paper. We could see the contents of every single gift without even removing a smidge of tape. It was like a car wreck. We tried not to look, but we couldn’t stop ourselves.

Have you heard of Flat Stanley? We were Flat Betsy and Flat Melanie that Christmas. There was no surprise, no anticipation, no excitement except for that which we felt obligated to manufacture for our parents’ benefit. I can tell you one thing: we never did that again.

Anticipation is big part of the fun. Anticipation actually extends the happiness of an event, as you pre-game your game in your mind and your preparations. I always tell my husband that anticipating a trip is a big part of the trip itself, and it lasts longer. As we make plans, decide what to do, and look up information about our destination, we are emotionally on the the trip before we even leave. There is much to be said about the dreaminess of the “before.”

The Old Testament is a long pre-game of anticipation as the people waited for their Messiah to come. Glimpses of the salvation and redemption he would bring sustained them through long periods of waiting and hoping. Some of the most beautiful anticipatory language is found in the book of Isaiah:

God’s People Are Comforted

40 Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that she has served her term,
    that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

The anticipatory voice crying out about valleys being lifted up and rough places being smoothed is a voice we should all heed when we find ourselves in need of saving. The question for us this morning is, are you just waiting, as though you are in a holding pattern, or are you anticipating, with your eyes raised up, ready to see the glory of the Lord? Waiting implies inertia. Don’t get me wrong, waiting is a necessary part of every journey. But waiting with anticipation is a place of hope. Waiting with anticipation tells God that you fully expect to be delivered, based not on your own works, but on his promises.

The scriptures encourage us again and again to anticipate God’s intervention and response whenever we cry out to him in our need:

Get you up to a high mountain,
    O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
    O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
    lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
    “Here is your God!”
See, the Lord God comes with might,
    and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
    and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
    he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
    and gently lead the mother sheep.

So hear the good tidings today: God is actively working in your situation. He comes with might to answer your need. He comes with compassion, to feed you like a shepherd. He comes with love, to carry you in his arms.

He comes. Get you up to a high mountain! Anticipate, and make yourself ready, for he comes.

Rainbow over Colington.

Sparking Sadness

Yes, that is a picture of mismatched, old, worn-out socks. I took it against a nice background, since my epiphanies always happen at the Water’s Edge, but it is indeed a nasty pile of socks. These aren’t even my socks, but my husband’s. He walked down the steps with them last week and declared, “I have decided that these socks no longer spark joy.” In my mind I was thinking, “Honey, they haven’t sparked joy for about ten years, especially the red ones.”

His comment was a result of the Marie Kondo phenomenon. Kondo is a television personality who brilliantly came up with the idea to do shows helping people become more organized and efficient with their homes and their usage of space. Disciples of Kondo will recognize the “spark joy” reference. Her greatest teaching is that you should hold an object in your hands, and if it doesn’t spark any joy in your heart, you need to toss it out. I read a news report that said that once this idea went viral, thrift stores everywhere were suddenly overwhelmed with joyless donations. Her thinking is pretty revolutionary, don’t you think? But more importantly, don’t you wish you had come up with it first?? I sure do!

A friend of mine coined another phrase to describe the opposite of sparking joy. She said that she realizes there are things in her home that only “spark sadness.” She described how a beautiful figurine that looked just like her dog now sparks sadness, as the dog has passed away. I have a favorite photograph in my living room of my in-laws holding hands as they crossed the finish line at the Turkey Trot many years ago. Since my mother-in-law died, this picture of her smiling in her Penn State hat and wearing her race number pinned to her sweatshirt often sparks sadness for me. She will never do that race again, which was the highlight of our Thanksgiving day for many years. We keep things like these to honor the sweet bitterness of lost loves, but sometimes holding them truly sparks sadness, and rightfully so.

There is a difference between things that no longer spark joy and things that outright spark only sadness. Sometimes relationships are like that. They can go fallow for awhile, and temporarily fail to spark joy. Then a reconciliation or reunion happens and turns it around. But other times, the thought of them brings only a sweet-less bitter that is permanent. And that’s when you know it is time to let go.

This applies to anything that is bringing you despair and angst. When past mistakes, regrets, guilt, sin, poor choices, failures, bad relationships, hurts, anger, betrayals, etc. bring nothing useful to your life and only drag you deep into a place of darkness, let it go.

Paul calls us to reach forward and grasp what Christ has already planned for us:

Philippians 3:13 “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Remember when you were learning how to cross the monkey bars at the playground? Somebody held you up, and you grasped a bar. Then to move forward, you had to let go of the bar and grasp the next one in front of you. Otherwise your arms would eventually wear out and you would drop to the ground.

Forget what is behind. Strain toward what is ahead. Jesus took hold of the cross so that you could take hold of life, and he promised it would be a life ABUNDANT with meaning, purpose, and joy. So whatever you are holding today that sparks only sadness in your heart, let it go. Jesus has so much more for you than that.

Won’t You Be a Neighbor?

This fall, a movie called “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” will be released. Tom Hanks will play Fred Rogers, the TV personality from “Mr Rogers Neighborhood,” which ran for over 31 seasons. This PBS children’s program focused on teaching simple values to America’s little ones. Mr. Rogers taught children how to handle tragedy, how to develop friendships, how to treat one another with kindness, how to appropriately express strong emotions like anger, how to handle disappointment, and especially how to be everybody’s neighbor.

His neighborhood was diverse, and included a king, a tiger, and a trolley. In one pivotal episode, he and his black police officer friend put their feet together in a kiddy pool on a hot summer day and talked about friendship. It was a stunning act of courage for the show: this was aired in the 1960’s during Jim Crow laws and the heightened controversy of desegregation and civil rights. When Officer Clemmons says he has to leave to continue walking his beat, Mr. Rogers leans down, picks up a towel, and dries off his friend’s feet.

Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister, and surely he knew that this act of foot-washing would leave an indelible mark on his young viewers. Maybe it would not change their parents’ thinking just yet, but the young watchers got to see “Neighbor” defined the way Jesus defined it:

Luke 10:25-37 The Message (MSG)

Defining “Neighbor”

Just then a lawyer stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”

He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”

Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

“A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

“What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”

“The one who treated him kindly,” the lawyer responded.

Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”

It should be noted that of the three who saw the injured man, the Samaritan was in the “enemy camp.” The injured man was apparently a well-off Jew traveling from Jerusalem, most likely after a visit to the Temple. The priest and the Levite are also thought to be traveling for the same reason, and thus they were part of the injured man’s community. Samaritans and Jews, however, had a long history of estrangement. Jews considered Samaritans to be unclean due to their intermarriage with pagans, and so they would have nothing to do with them.

In setting up the story this way, Jesus is making the point that everyone is our neighbor. He also makes the point that the way to eternity (which was the lawyer’s original question) is by living out the greatest commandments of loving God and loving neighbor. The priest and the Levite lived their lives by the letter of the law but did not understood the scope of love, and therefore could not extend kindness. When you have God in your heart, you have love in your heart. When you only have God in your head, love can’t flow. You can’t give what you don’t have. The enemy Samaritan, however, embodied the compassion that defines a good neighbor, and provided the perfect example of Christ’s commands to “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.”

The question for us today is, what would our lives look like if we truly embodied the two great commandments and acted on them? What would you do differently if you thought that eternal life hinged on acts of kindness? We know that eternal life hinges on the grace of Jesus Christ, and our acceptance of the salvation he offers, but acts of kindness are the evidence of a life lived in Christ. Are you bearing that fruit? Who is your neighbor? Or more to the point, who are you? Are YOU a neighbor?

Jesus’ message is clear here. Everyone is our neighbor. Everywhere you look, there is somebody lying half dead in a ditch. The angry drinker down the street, the troubled teenager who has a reputation for stealing, the imposing, greedy client who asks for too much, the person on the street who hasn’t washed, folks who think and act differently, and most certainly the immigrants who are currently entrapped in deplorable conditions at our border. This scripture teaches us that God’s unconditional love has no borders. Neither should ours.

Jesus calls us to love HIM by loving others. All others. Won’t you be a neighbor?

Geese lining up to use Georgia’s dog ramp. These are her neighbors, and she doesn’t like it very much. She is such a Levite!

Pressed Pennies

When our kids were younger, they collected pressed pennies from every place we visited. I love the whole concept of a pressed penny; you stick a penny in the machine, add a dollar, select the impression you want, and presto! Your penny gets squished and you have an immediate (and affordable) souvenir. And bonus! Pennies don’t take up any room in your suitcase.

I recently watched a family at a penny press machine and saw the children’s faces as the wonderful transformation happened. The penny now bears markings on both sides, and the crushing of the wheels makes the penny longer, flatter, and shinier. Too bad there isn’t a people pressing machine. Who wouldn’t want to be transformed into something that is longer, flatter, and shinier?

Jesus was also pressed. Even before he came, we knew he would be crushed on our behalf:

Isaiah 53:5 New International Version (NIV)

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,

    he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

    and by his wounds we are healed.

When I think of his last night on earth, I am taken back to a trip to Israel when we stood in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is a beautiful place on a hill that overlooks the city of Jerusalem, with its pink stone walls and domed temple. It was here in the garden that Jesus prayed alone, asking his father for a stay of execution. He prayed so hard that drops of blood dripped from his forehead. In just a few hours, a crude crown of thorns would increase the flow.

The word “Gethsemane” in Hebrew means “oil press.” In the center of this beautiful olive tree grove is a huge set of two flat, round stones. The top stone is lifted up and down by a simple rope and pulley system. The olives are laid in mesh bags on the bottom stone, and then the heavy top stone is lowered down, pressing and crushing out the finest olive oil possible. The oil runs down channels cut into the sides of the bottom stone into buckets.

It is appropriate that Jesus began pressing out his life for us in the quiet beauty of this place. The finest of the finest oil came from this location. The finest of the finest sacrifice also came from here.

The night he prayed alone among the stones and the trees, he was in deep agony. But when he looked heavenward and saw the stars his father had set in the sky, he also saw you. He saw you in your own Gethsemane. He saw you in the agony of your sin and loneliness. He saw you alone and hopeless. So he got up from his prayer position and walked down the hill toward his death, so that you could live.

I don’t know what personal Gethsemane you are in, but I know you are not alone. Jesus is with you in your agony. Jesus suffered for you and died for you so that you would know that you are never alone. The punishment that brings you peace was upon him. You are healed by his wounds!

So whatever is pressing you now beyond what you can bear, look up. Look up to the stars and the sky, and know that the Creator of the Universe is working on your behalf. Through your pressing, you will be transformed into something longer, leaner, stronger, more capable, and as shiny as a new penny.

HWLF

A few decades ago, Christians everywhere started wearing bracelets with the letters “WWJD”. It was an attempt to encourage the wearers to ask themselves, “What Would Jesus Do?” as they made their way through the day. WWJD captured our imagination and quickly became the ubiquitous symbol of what it meant to truly follow Jesus.

We might think of the WWJD movement as a recent development, but actually the wording has been around for more than 100 years. Charles M. Sheldon, a Topeka minister and evangelical Christian writer, used it in his 1897 novel, “In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?” He was a social activist focused on justice issues, and his book brought forth the idea that in everything we do, we should be imitating Christ. Our words, our actions, our priorities, our thoughts, our giving….everything we do should reflect Christ to the world.

Paul was way ahead of his time when he wrote this quintessential response to the question of what Jesus would be doing:

Ephesians 5 The Message (MSG)

Wake Up from Your Sleep

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

“Mostly what God does is love you.”

See how beautifully this answers the question of What Would Jesus Do? He Would Love First. (HWLF)

Loving first means to seek out the lost and offer them salvation.

Loving first means that there are no “others,” for everyone is considered by God to be a child of God.

Loving first means we are extravagant with all of our resources, just as Jesus was.

Loving first means we offer ourselves without any expectation of reward or return.

Loving first means to withhold judgment and condemnation and offer acceptance and hospitality. To everyone. Without regard to any differences. You see, if you love first, the differences don’t matter.

Loving first opens wide the hearts, opens wide the minds and certainly opens wide the doors.

Love like that.

How is your HWLF life going? We are offered a chance today to do a deep examination of this standard in the different aspects of our discipleship. Is love your first response, or is legalism? Is love your first answer, or is anger? Is love expressed in your every action, or are you withholding? Does your giving reflect love, or self-love? Is your social media persona a pure reflection of God’s unconditional love for the world, or have you taken sides?

He Would Love First. So must we.

HWLF. It’s the new wave. Photo by Joe McGraw.

Broken

A friend shares that after three years of unemployment/underemployment, she finally has a new full time job starting Monday. She said, “I have felt hopeless, frustrated, and broken, but now I feel blessed.” Her struggle to balance her household finances was exhausting and challenging. Her struggle to balance her sense of identity and emotional self-worth was even more so. But God brought her through it.

Brokenness is a part of life. Relationships break, households break, nerves break, roles break, hearts break, and minds most certainly break. I spent about two and a half years feeling very broken when a decision to restructure our church staff eliminated several positions, including mine. I wandered in the Valley of the Shadow of Brokenness until a new church offered me a position. It was like being exiled to the Island of the Misfit Toys; the sense of rejection and my feeling of a lack of purpose was real and very, very hard to live with. I lost my identity. But God brought me through it.

When things are good, meaningful, important and fulfilling, they are also vulnerable to breakage. I recall hearing a widow standing by her husband’s coffin at his funeral saying, “If it hadn’t been so good, this wouldn’t feel so bad.” I think she nailed it with that one sentence. And God brought her through it.

Zephaniah has a wonderful word of encouragement for the journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Brokenness.

Zephaniah 3:17 New International Version (NIV)

17 The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.

He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you,

 but will rejoice over you with singing.”

It is amazing to think that God sings with rejoicing over us! That image alone is a lot of help in times of brokenness. When the brokenness seems to have no end date, it can be a hard burden to carry. But nothing lasts forever.

Casting Crowns uses a similar image of Jesus singing over us, with a voice of truth about our current reality:

Oh what I would do to have
The kind of strength it takes to stand before a giant
With just a sling and a stone
Surrounded by the sound of a thousand warriors
Shaking in their armor
Wishing they’d have had the strength to stand
But the giant’s calling out my name 
And he laughs at me
Reminding me of all the times 
I’ve tried before and failed
The giant keeps on telling me
Time and time again. “Boy you’ll never win!”
“You’ll never win!”
But the stone was just the right size
To put the giant on the ground
And the waves they don’t seem so high
From on top of them lookin’ down
I will soar with the wings of eagles
When I stop and listen to the sound of Jesus
Singing over me!

I once preached a funeral for a woman named Tina Owen Ross. She was a lovely matriarch of our community, and it was one of my first funerals where I really knew the person and really felt the loss. But I will always remember that day because of an epiphany God gave me in the middle of reading the 23rd Psalm.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

BAM. Death is a mere shadow, and what is a shadow? A temporary dark image that comes and goes with the position of the sun. Shadows don’t last for a lifetime. Shadows don’t even last for a day, for night comes and eliminates all shadowness.

So when you find yourself in the Valley of the Shadow of Brokenness, just keep your head up and keep pushing through it. God walks every valley with us and he is the great Mender and Fixer of broken things. There is an old cliche that goes, “If God brought you to it, he will bring you through it.” Look to the Mighty Warrior who saves, wait for your deliverance, and choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.

But the voice of truth tells me a different story
The voice of truth says, “Do not be afraid!”
The voice of truth says, “This is for My glory”
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth

Photo by Jamie Haas Mathis.

I see you

I can play “peek-a-boo” on an airplane for hours. I was once an exhausted young mother trying to soothe two toddlers on long flights, and I cherished that tired businessman who sat behind us and peek-a-booed my daughters into happy giggles. Now it is my turn, and I have mad skills in catching that baby’s eye and playing until they drop exhausted into Mamma’s arms. I hide behind my hands, the safety demo card, the seats, and then pop up like a deranged jack-in-the-box. You didn’t see THAT one coming, did ya, little one? Like I said, mad skills.

Did you ever think that life is one long peek-a-boo game with God? We look around, searching for meaning, comfort, and help, and God is there already, looking right at us and saying, “I see you!”

The story of Zacchaeus is one long play of peek-a-boo. That wee little man was hoping to see Jesus one day as the Savior was passing down the street of his town. Being vertically challenged, he climbed up in a tree to get a better view. Images of kids being held on a parent’s shoulders to watch the fireworks at Disney World come flooding into my mind when I read this. Why do I always manage to stand behind the 6’3″ dad hoisting his five year old up? Suddenly, I’M Zacchaeus. Peek-a-boohoo, I don’t see nuthin’. Oh, well, better for the child to see than me.

I digress.

So Zacchaeus, going out on a limb as it were, is watching the Jesus parade when the unthinkable happens: Jesus sees him. Peek-a-BAM! Can you even imagine? And immediately, Jesus, being Jesus, invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house for lunch. (That would have flown me into a deep panic. Is the house vacuumed? Do I have anything in the fridge to eat? What exactly do you serve the Savior of the World for lunch?? Definitely not ham.)

Luke 19:1 Jesus was going through Jericho, 2 where a man named Zacchaeus lived. He was in charge of collecting taxes and was very rich. 3-4 Jesus was heading his way, and Zacchaeus wanted to see what he was like. But Zacchaeus was a short man and could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree.

5 When Jesus got there, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry down! I want to stay with you today.” 6 Zacchaeus hurried down and gladly welcomed Jesus.

7 Everyone who saw this started grumbling, “This man Zacchaeus is a sinner! And Jesus is going home to eat with him.”

8 Later that day Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “I will give half of my property to the poor. And I will now pay back four times as much to everyone I have ever cheated.”

9 Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “Today you and your family have been saved, because you are a true son of Abraham. 10 The Son of Man came to look for and to save all people who are lost.”

How does it feel to know that you are SEEN? Sometimes in counseling, the best thing you can tell someone is, “I see your pain.” That acknowledgment of their reality often brings forth a flood of deeply hidden emotions, enabling the healing to begin.

Jesus sees you in all of your Zacchaeus-like “short” comings. He sees your current situation and he is waiting for you to look up and see him. Jesus was never afraid to get down and dirty with sinners, even though he was staunchly criticized for it. He had a very clear vision of his own mission: to come to LOOK for and to SAVE all who are lost.

This is the mission of his followers as well. We have no greater calling than to LOOK for and SAVE all who are lost.

About 20 years ago a man came to me after the 11:00 Sunday worship service, and he was hotter than a Georgia hornet in July. He demanded very loudly that I immediately “cancel his church membership”…like we were the Y or something. I calmly asked him why, and he explained very angrily that he noticed in the bulletin that the couple who had joined that hour had the same address, yet they were unmarried.

I told him that the Methodist church had no prohibition against unmarried co-habitors joining the church. He fumed that we were CONDONING SIN by ALLOWING THEM TO JOIN, and he would have no part in it. I quietly asked him, if we didn’t allow sinners to join the church, what was the point? I pointed out that if being sin-free was a requirement, all the pastoral staff would have to resign. The next Sunday he joined the a small, independent church down the street and is probably still happily there today.

Listen, if you attend a church that excludes any sinner from Jesus’ mission to look for and save all who are lost, find a better church. EVERYONE is lost, everyone has fallen short and everyone deserves to be seen, heard, loved, cared for, served, included, and saved.

Jesus’ call to the sinner Zacchaeus had a great sense of urgency: “Zacchaeus, hurry down! I want to stay with you today.” It is a reminder that we should not delay. The time is now to bring the presence of Jesus into your present reality, and let him inspire you to make real, significant change like Zacchaeus did.

So wherever you are today, whether you are mired in sin or sitting high on a lofty tree limb of your own self-righteousness, get off it. Jesus sees you and is calling, ready to come to you. Salvation is at hand. Peek-a-boo!

The tree at the end of my street. Photo by Teresa Holloway.

Serenity

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

This beautiful prayer is a hallmark of 12 Step groups such as AA. The origin of it is somewhat disputed, but look at this longer prayer written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace.

Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.

Trusting that You will make all things right, if I surrender to Your will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

The pursuit of serenity and peace is something that consumes many of us, with little to no results. The reason may be that we are using the wrong things to find it. Hoping to find serenity in alcohol, drugs, food, “retail therapy”, inappropriate relationships, overworking, over exercising, attempting to control everything around us….even the list itself is exhausting.

I know someone who religiously gets up every morning to pour over every single page of a national newspaper, thinking that intellectual pursuit of answers to her anxiety about the current state of affairs will bring her peace. It does not. I know someone else who is up at the crack of dawn to exercise, followed by more cardio work and group classes throughout the day, in hopes that physical exhaustion will settle her mind down. It does not. Neither will the every afternoon Happy Hour routine, the weed smoked before class, the sexting, the pornography, the overspending, the undereating…..nothing we can produce or manufacture will bring us true peace. It is all lies, smoke, and mirrors fueled by industries who are just trying to produce more consumption of useless things.

Niebuhr was right. Accepting hardship, rather than denying it, is the pathway to peace. Living one day at a time, rather than spinning with worry about tomorrow, will lead us to serenity. Enjoying one moment at a time, rather than comparing that moment to the fun everyone on Fakebook seems to be having, will lead to acceptance of the world as it is. And the key? “Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will.”

Take a look at verses 3 and 4 of this passage from Isaiah. Note that the voice changes in this passage; verse 1 and 2 describes what is happening, verse 3 addresses God, and verse 4 addresses us.

Isaiah 26

1 In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:

“We have a strong city;

    he sets up salvation

    as walls and bulwarks.

2 Open the gates,

    that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.”

3 You keep him in perfect peace

    whose mind is stayed on You,

    because he trusts in You.

4 Trust in the Lord forever,

    for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.

To be kept in this perfect peace, our minds must be “stayed” on God. The Hebrew word “sawmak” comes from the root “to prop,” and is translated as “to lean upon or take hold of; to bear up, establish, uphold, lay, lean, lie hard, put, rest self, set self, stand fast, stay, sustain.” (Strong’s Dictionary)

So, what sustains your mind? What do you lay your mind upon? What does your mind stand fast upon? What is your mind leaning on? To have perfect peace, your mind can’t just occasionally visit the Lord; it has to be STAYED on him. Keeping your mind, heart, soul and activity wholly centered on God is the way to peace.

Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.Photo by Michelle Robertson.