Lessons From Shark Week

One of the best things that happens in July is the Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week, where every program is devoted to sharks. Shark movies, shark documentaries, shows that explore how sharks react in certain situations, (and the divers demonstrate each one with live sharks….anything for ratings!) shark commercials, shark talk shows…it’s a sharkapalooza.

In one show, a female diver attempted to learn where you can touch a shark and where you can’t. (Ummmm….just don’t touch the shark??) Our fascination with sharks fuels this entire industry. Shark attacks are on the rise, not because sharks are our natural predators, but because we are increasingly getting into their habitats with disregard to our safety.

Here are a few tips from Shark Week:

If you fall off your paddle board near a shark, don’t thrash around. Stay very still (because that would feel so natural) and ease your way back on the board. Be cool. Even smarter: don’t paddle board in shark infested water.

Don’t bring your iphone or iWatch into the water. Your electronics attract the sharks and they will approach you to make a phone call or have a selfie taken with you.

If you encounter a shark in the wild, don’t reach out and touch it. If it comes for you anyway, touch it on the top of the snout and gently redirect it. But don’t touch it under the nose, or he will automatically open his jaws and eat you.

Sharks have excellent hearing, but they don’t like heavy metal bands or the sound of a camera flash going off. This was scientifically proven this week.

Now while there are no stories in the Bible involving sharks, there is a pretty cool story about a whale and a man named Jonah. Jonah was an Israelite whom God had called to be a prophet. Johan didn’t want to be a prophet, so he went on a sea cruise instead. God then raised a great storm to get Jonah’s attention. The sailors, realizing that Jonah’s disobedience had caused the storm, threw him overboard to try and save their ship. He was swallowed by a whale and lived for three days inside the creature, after which the fish “vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.” Thankful that his life had been spared, Jonah took up his prophetic mission:

Jonah 3 New International Version (NIV)

Jonah Goes to Nineveh

3 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. 4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

So here are three lessons from Jonah’s whale:

You can run from God, but you can’t hide.

God’s call may be hard, but it may also save lives (including your own.)

God is a God of second chances.

Think about that today. Where is God calling you to do something difficult? Are you running? Or maybe you are in a dark fish belly of disobedience and you’re sick and tired of the smell. Do you need a do-over? We serve a God of second chances. You get to come out and try again, this time with the power of the Holy Spirit helping you to make it.

God’s message to us today is that he is bigger than the shark, bigger than the whale, and bigger than anything this world has thrown at us to keep us down. He is a 24/7 God who is actively working to bring us to wholeness through joyful obedience and second chances. Rise up, people. Our deliverer is here.

Look closely at the wave. Photo by 9News.

Entertaining Angels

There is a town in central Florida called Celebration that has a charming, old-fashioned downtown area. The businesses that line the streets often have dog water bowls and little baskets filled with dog treats to entice you to stop and look in their windows. You can imagine my dog Georgia’s incredible joy when we discovered this on a recent visit! The downside for the other dogs is that her stop at the bike rental water bowl completely depleted their offering.

Now mind you, my girl is no angel, but the kindness these folks show the local dogs made me think about the scripture about “entertaining angels” in the book of Hebrews:

Hebrews 13 New International Version (NIV)

13 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. 3 Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Providing hospitality is a common theme in the Bible. Think about travel in those days; inns were few and far between, or completely absent all together. Travelers could only get by with a little help from unknown friends, so providing shelter and a meal was commonplace.

Remember the story of Abraham and Sarah from Genesis 18? Three strangers came along as Abraham was sitting outside his tent. He jumped up and offered them water, bread, and the shade of his tree:

Genesis 18 Common English Bible (CEB)

18 The Lord appeared to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre while he sat at the entrance of his tent in the day’s heat. 2 He looked up and suddenly saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from his tent entrance to greet them and bowed deeply. 3 He said, “Sirs, if you would be so kind, don’t just pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought so you may wash your feet and refresh yourselves under the tree. 5 Let me offer you a little bread so you will feel stronger, and after that you may leave your servant and go on your way—since you have visited your servant.”

They responded, “Fine. Do just as you have said.”

Abraham offered the standard of care: water for foot washing and a little bread. But look what actually happens:

6 So Abraham hurried to Sarah at his tent and said, “Hurry! Knead three seahs of the finest flour and make some baked goods!” 7 Abraham ran to the cattle, took a healthy young calf, and gave it to a young servant, who prepared it quickly. 8 Then Abraham took butter, milk, and the calf that had been prepared, put the food in front of them, and stood under the tree near them as they ate.

It was a five-star meal. Course after course of breads, meat, butter, milk…he opened up a smorgasbord of hospitality for these three men. And mind you, while we’re in on the fact that it was the Lord whom he entertained (read vs. 1 again), Abraham wasn’t. He was simply extending gracious hospitality because he had it to give….thereby, entertaining angels.

How would you respond differently if you suspected that the hungry, dirty people needing your hospitality were the Lord and his angels? Would you lavish your resources on them, or offer water and a little bread? Would you close the door in their faces?

Jesus was very clear when he said that whenever you have offered the cup of cold water to the “least of these,” you have entertained him. So keep on showing hospitality to strangers. Keep on feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the unclothed, and most of all, keep on loving one another as your brothers and sisters.

Sorry, dogs of Celebration. Georgia was here.

I’d Rather Cut Off My Arm

A friend recently shared a problem she is having with a family member. After recounting several upsetting incidents that have occurred over the course of many years, she looked across the dinner table and said, “I know I should be praying for her, because we’re supposed to pray for our enemies, but frankly, I think I’d rather cut off my arm!” We collapsed into a fit of giggles that embarrassed our husbands, and then tackled the issues of 1. how difficult it is to pray for people who have been deliberately hurtful to us, and 2. the difficulty of trying to wash your hair or fold a fitted bed sheet with only one arm. I can’t do it with two.

Let’s take a look at that scripture in its entirety and see if we can’t find a way to comply with one of Jesus’ harder commandments, and help my friend keep her arm intact:

Matthew 5:43-48 New International Version (NIV)

Love for Enemies

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

In the broader context, Jesus is making an imprint on his new and very radical theology of how the people of God are to behave. From the first sentence, he is righting the wrong of the old way, by reversing how we are to treat enemies. Love, not hate, is the new way.

But the point of this radicalism comes in the next sentence: pray for those who persecute you so that YOU may be children of your Father in heaven.

Did you notice that the instruction to pray is not so that your enemy might be changed? No indeed, the point of this prayer is so that YOU might be changed.

God brings the warmth of the sun and the replenishing rains to provide for the good and the evil alike. This is a reminder to us that God sees potential for change in everyone. He has always been in the saving and transformation business. How easy it would be for him to simply cast out the unrighteous, but instead he includes them into his kingdom by holding the door of repentance wide open.

Being good to your friends, and hanging out with your own kind is something non-believers do with great ease. There has to be a difference between those who follow Christ and those who don’t. So what Jesus is saying here is that we are not to be like others around us, but we are to be like him in everything we do. We are called to love unconditionally, forgive without hesitation, encourage and build one another up, and be patient and long-suffering when need be.

I shared with my friend that I had a person who was extremely critical of me, and publicly so, at the very beginning of my ministry. Her words and her actions were devastating and caused me great pain. I confided to an elder church member about it, and he calmly reminded me to “pray for my enemies.” And so I did, for three solid years. I prayed she would be blessed, whole, and healthy. Some days I prayed that I wouldn’t see her at church, because every time I saw her, I had to greet her with a kindness I didn’t always feel. Other days I prayed she would receive me differently, and that maybe we would someday be friends. I just prayed.

One day we found each other in the church on a Saturday when volunteers had gathered to do some work. She was on a ladder, and saw me walking down the aisle of the sanctuary. She called out to me, and asked if we could talk. In tears, she asked me to forgive her for those words she had spoken many years ago, and told me how much she appreciated that I had been civil to her even though she had hurt me.

I told her that I had forgiven her a long time ago, and as those words came out of my mouth, I realized that in all of those years of “praying for my enemy,” my prayers hadn’t changed the situation, but it definitely changed ME.

Prayer changes us. Prayer opens us, helps us to let go of stuff, reminds us that the stuff is really God’s anyway, and allows us to be the face of Jesus to the enemy. My friend may never have reconciliation with her family member, but by praying without ceasing for them, she is sure to receive peace and release. And keep her arm.

Photo by Janet Kuchta.

The Big Reveal

Home improvement shows on television have captured the hearts and minds of the American public. These shows have developed a formula for their programming that has a vast, wide-spread appeal to its viewers. They start with something is old/broken/out of date/no longer feasible. Then Joanna Gaines, Ty Pennington, the Property Brothers, et al swoop in and go to work. That thing then gets fixed/updated/remodeled/expanded as the viewers watch the workers apply their craft, and the homeowners drop in occasionally to fret or complain. Finally, after the last set of commercials, we get to see the BIG REVEAL. The homeowners stand in front of their house, and the large “before” mural, or the bus, or their blindfold is removed, and PRESTO CHANGO, their home is beautifully and impossibly changed for something incredibly better.

The genius of these shows is that they make us wait for the end product. The majority of the show is dedicated to the transformation process, as we see walls coming down, plaster going up, farm tables being built, impossible obstacles being overcome, and so forth. The big reveal only takes up about two to three minutes of the entire show, but it is always worth waiting for.

In the 13th Chapter of Corinthians, Paul teaches us about faith, hope and love. Then he makes this remarkable statement:

1 Corinthians 13: 11
“It’s like this: when I was a child I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child does. But when I became a man my thoughts grew far beyond those of my childhood, and now I have put away the childish things.
 

In the same way, we can see and understand only a little about God now, as if we were peering at his reflection in a poor mirror; but someday we are going to see him in his completeness, face-to-face. Now all that I know is hazy and blurred, but then I will see everything clearly, just as clearly as God sees into my heart right now.

The BIG REVEAL. Paul assures us that what we see now is only a glimpse of heaven. What we know now is only in part. What we understand about the kingdom of God is childish. But when see God as he is, we shall know, face to face. Our earthly existence is a process of transformation. We submit to the Master Builder’s plan and take down old and unsuitable habits and attitudes. Meanwhile God crafts new, updated and more Christ-like behaviors in our actions and thoughts. If we allow it, God rebuilds us from the inside out in preparation for that time when we experience our own Big Reveal.

See what we say at the beginning of every funeral:

Dying, Christ destroyed our death.

Rising, Christ restored our life.

Christ will come again in glory.

As in baptism (the departed) put on Christ,

so in Christ may he/she be clothed with glory.

Here and now, dear friends, we are God’s children.

What we shall be has not yet been revealed;

but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him,

for we shall see him as he is.

Those who have this hope purify themselves

as Christ is pure.

These words of gathering assure the congregation of two things: what we shall be has not yet been revealed, but the person we are remembering sees everything now. They are enjoying Big Reveal as we gather to remember them, and that brings a soothing kind of hope to every mourner.

Death is the big reveal. God has saved the very best for last. It is nothing to fear, nothing to run from, nothing to dread. Rather, it is the fullest culmination of all our our life’s dreams and efforts here on earth, and the final step in our transformation journey. Impossibly beautiful, we get to be clothed in glory. We get to be like Jesus. We get to see God as he is.

Oh Death, where indeed is thy victory? Where, oh Death, is thy sting? In life, in death, in life beyond death, GOD IS WITH US. Thanks be to God.

Photo by Wende Pritchard.

Looking for Alligators

In answer to the question, “Are there alligators in that lake?,” a Florida realtor responded, “If it’s a body of water any larger than a puddle in Florida, there is an alligator there.” True enough, a run around two small lakes last week provided views of two alligators…that I could see. So when I run in Florida, I am constantly looking for them.

The problem with looking for alligators is that you miss stuff. I missed a great view of the town across the lake. I missed watching children play in the (heavily fenced in) lakeside playground. I missed hearing a couple speaking in a foreign accent as they experienced the beauty of the flora and fauna. Keeping vigilant in my alligator quest, I miss stuff.

Do you ever do this with people? Do you look for the alligators in them? Social life today has brought out a kind of meanness in people that did not exist ten years ago. I read someone’s post and it offends me. I respond with something strong, and offend them. Others read the exchange and they circle the lake, realizing the alligators are showing their teeth and they want nothing to do with it. And the next time I see them in real life, I am prejudiced and stand-offish.

I wonder if I am creating the alligator. Anticipation of someone’s teeth may actually be giving them teeth that they weren’t planning to use. A fight or disagreement from years past may rise up in my mind when I am about to see them again, and take on alligator-like proportions in my perception. And because I greet them with hesitancy and suspicion, I may actually be summoning the beast where one did not exist. Meanwhile, I miss seeing their true self. My empathy and understanding are dulled even before I open the door to let them in, and I miss moments of humor and gentleness.

Having a pre-conceived notion of someone is not always helpful. People change, but we miss it. We see alligators where they do not exist.

I am so glad that God does not treat me this way.

1 Samuel 16 Common English Bible (CEB)

Samuel anoints David

16 4 Samuel did what the Lord instructed. When he came to Bethlehem, the city elders came to meet him. They were shaking with fear. “Do you come in peace?” they asked.

5 “Yes,” Samuel answered. “I’ve come to make a sacrifice to the Lord. Now make yourselves holy, then come with me to the sacrifice.” Samuel made Jesse and his sons holy and invited them to the sacrifice as well.

6 When they arrived, Samuel looked at Eliab and thought, That must be the Lord’s anointed right in front.

7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Have no regard for his appearance or stature, because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.”

8 Next Jesse called for Abinadab, who presented himself to Samuel, but he said, “The Lord hasn’t chosen this one either.” 9 So Jesse presented Shammah, but Samuel said, “No, the Lord hasn’t chosen this one.” 10 Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord hasn’t picked any of these.” 11 Then Samuel asked Jesse, “Is that all of your boys?”

“There is still the youngest one,” Jesse answered, “but he’s out keeping the sheep.”

“Send for him,” Samuel told Jesse, “because we can’t proceed until he gets here.”

12 So Jesse sent and brought him in. He was reddish brown, had beautiful eyes, and was good-looking. The Lord said, “That’s the one. Go anoint him.” 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him right there in front of his brothers. The Lord’s spirit came over David from that point forward.

“God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.”

This is a reminder to us today to look at the hearts of those around us, not the outward appearance of things. Look beyond the snarkastic post, the angry retort, the past history, and put your God-Goggles on. How does God see this person in front of you? If you look harder, the alligator you are anticipating might not even be there. God sees us as people of intrinsic value, and thought highly enough of us to send his son as an expression of his unconditional love for each one of us. God sees into the heart.

Go, and see likewise.

Photo by Kenn Haas

Living Inside My Head

Are you living inside your head too much? Headspace is a place where we listen to an inner dialogue that circles around like a motorcycle in a round metal cage. Sadness, depression, isolation, and circumstances that grind us down can result in retreating inside to these cyclical thoughts. We stay in an unhealthy place of repetitious conversations with our inner voice. Worry and anxiety are often the trigger, and unfortunately the headspace that we dwell in is counterproductive to letting ourselves out and getting better.

One thing that being inside your head lacks is perspective. Because the inner dialogue is monotone and one-track, there is no counter point to your point. It becomes something akin to looking into a mirror of a mirror of a mirror. The reflection is duplicated over and over, but the image never changes.

I read something the other day that caught my attention. Twin boys were raised by an alcoholic father. One grew up to be an alcoholic. When asked why, he responded, “I watched my father…” The other never took a drink in his life. When asked why, he responded, “I watched my father…” Perspective determines your destination.

I live inside my head a lot. I spend a fair amount of time alone, and while conversations with the dog are entertaining, they are rarely enlightening. Writing helps me get outside of my skull to see what other voices are saying and gain an outside perspective. I do a fair amount of research when I write, so different definitions, commentaries, reading several scripture translations, etc. enlarge the conversation in my mind so that my views expand beyond my own.

This is why I recommend journaling to people I am counseling. Even if you keep it completely to yourself, writing down your thoughts gives you the opportunity to reflect on what you are experiencing in a different way. New thoughts will come as you read what you wrote, and the Holy Spirit gets a chance to enter into the dialogue.

Turning over our inner thoughts to the God who created the universe has the effect of bringing a far different perspective into our current situation than we can possibly manage for ourselves. The psalmists found this out. Everyone who sat down to write out their frustrations and tribulations arose with a newfound notion of how things were going to work out.

Let’s take a look at Psalm 23, but in order to gain a fresh perspective, we will use a translation you’ve probably never read:

Psalm 23 The Message (MSG) A David Psalm

23 1-3 God, my shepherd!

    I don’t need a thing.

You have bedded me down in lush meadows,

    you find me quiet pools to drink from.

True to your word,

    you let me catch my breath

    and send me in the right direction.

4  Even when the way goes through Death Valley,

I’m not afraid

    when you walk at my side.

Your trusty shepherd’s crook

    makes me feel secure.

5  You serve me a six-course dinner

    right in front of my enemies.

You revive my drooping head;

    my cup brims with blessing.

6 Your beauty and love chase after me

    every day of my life.

I’m back home in the house of God

    for the rest of my life.

“Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life.”

Oh, my. Let that rest in your cacophonous mind for just a moment. God’s beauty and love chase after you! I guess the real question is, why are you running?

If you are caught up in a swirl of self-talk, try this: write that thing down, and then write out vs. 1-3 next to it. Then write your next thought, followed by vs. 4 and 5. Finally, write a summary of everything your inner voice is saying, and answer that with,

“Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.”

Try it today, and just see if your perspective doesn’t change.

God brings the rainbow and the lightening bolt. Which will you focus on?

Photo by Wende Pritchard

I Just Buzzed

While this could very well be something you hear at the local bar around 8PM from the fellow who arrived at Happy Hours, that is actually not the context we are considering today. The word “buzz” has a lot of fun applications: it can be a humming sound, a group expression of excitement and activity, the hurried motions of someone moving quickly, a military man’s crew cut, the activity of pressing a buzzer, and even making a telephone call (especially if you’re British. “Give you a buzz later, yah?”)

But none of those are the context we are considering today.

If you can guess where this is going, raise your Fitbitted arm. Yes, “I just buzzed” is something Fitbit wearers shout gleefully as they accomplish a pre-programmed goal of whatever number of steps they want to accomplish every day. FitBit rewards the walker by vibrating and flashing, creating a Pavlovian response that is addicting. Many Fitbit wearers can describe the utter devastation of realizing that their Fitbit didn’t charge, or they left it at home….it is as though NOTHING (IN LIFE!) COUNTS if you don’t get the buzz. Never mind that you did the walking and your body benefited, if you don’t get the buzz, it’s game over.

I think it is safe to say that Paul never wore a Fitbit, but he knew a lot about setting goals and getting your steps in:

Ephesians 4:1-3 The Message (MSG)

To Be Mature

4 1-3 In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere.

And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

How incredibly rich is this? Walk or run on the road God called YOU to travel. Wow. Paul reminds us that each of us has a different road. We are all headed to the same destination, but our roads are deliberately different. This means we dare not judge someone else’s path. Those who have walked the road to Emmaus are called to be gentle in their responses to those who won’t walk that road. Those who have had Damascus road conversions are expected to be patient with those whose faith grows over decades of contemplation. This is truly one thing where the destination outweighs the journey. God doesn’t care how you get there, as long as you get there.

This is why Paul charges us to go down our own path with HUMILITY and DISCIPLINE. Humility is a quality of having a modest lack of pride in one’s own progress. Discipline is the characteristic that will keep us moving forward in our maturity.

It’s a charge to pour ourselves out for others in acts of love, celebrating, rather than criticizing, each other’s differences. It’s a charge to eliminate the barriers between religious experiences and denominations, and ACCEPT one another as God has accepted and called each of us.

Where is God calling you to mend some fences today, in the name of the Lord? What steps should you take to come alongside of someone whose faith journey is different or even absent, and in need of unbiased encouragement? I suspect that if you take the first step, the buzz you receive will worth it in the end. Walk on!

Shell heart by Allison Brown.

Lord, Get Me up This Hill

In its best form, prayer is simply an ongoing communication with a heavenly parent who simply adores you and can’t wait to talk to you about every little thing. Somehow we have twisted prayer into a set of rubrics (“Do the A.C.T.S. of Prayer!”), a florid flood of flowery flowing words (“I don’t pray out loud because I can’t pray like the preacher does every Sunday”), or rote repetition (when was the last time you really, truly thought about the words of the Lord’s Prayer?) It’s just not that complicated, people. Prayer is just talking.

I am a big advocate of the open dialogue that runs between God and his people when we set aside our preconceptions about prayer and just talk. When you practice open dialogue, it’s like you have your earbuds in, your speaker button on, and you just yak away. Talking to God like this throughout the day is a wonderful way to be in his presence. You can dialogue through your morning coffee and share your anticipations and concerns about the day. As you go about your work, dialogue about the traffic, your co-workers, assignments that are due, tasks you are worried about…you get the idea.

I practice this form of open dialogue prayer. I am sure I look like a mad woman driving down the road with my mouth flapping. About ten times a day I ask Jesus to take the wheel, and not just on the bypass. And if you pass me while I am running, you are likely to hear my constant prayer: “Lord, get me up this hill!”

Take a look at this wonderful nugget from the book of Ephesians. See how many times the words “all” and “always” are used:

Ephesians 6:18 “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 

Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

All occasions. All kinds of prayers. Always keep on praying. All the Lord’s people.

Kinda makes you think that we should be praying all the time, always!

I love that Paul adds a personal prayer request at the end. YES, Paul! He is showing us that we should feel free to ask other people to pray for us. His prayer request for fearlessness in sharing the gospel is a request we all can make. Lord, make us FEARLESS when we talk about you! Make us FEARLESS when we come to you! Make us FEARLESS when we pray!

So pick up the phone today and phone home. God is so ready to hear from his kids. You can tell him anything you want, and he will listen. And he will always get you up that hill.

Gracious and Loving God, Thank you for giving us the gift of open dialogue with you! We want to be in communication with you, and we need to hear your voice of wisdom, comfort and truth as we navigate this day. Be with us, and help us overcome any obstacle that might come our way. AMEN

Photo by Kathy Schumacher.

Vanity Sizing

If you have been around for a while, and have been wearing clothes while you’ve been around, you may have noticed a marketing trend called “Vanity Sizing.” This is a practice by clothing manufacturers where clothing sizes are being redesigned to fit an ever expanding national waistline. People are getting taller and wider, and the response to this is that clothing sizes are getting smaller. That would seem to be a paradox, but think about what size you wore ten to twenty years ago compared to now.

I found a favorite wool dirndl skirt in our attic when we moved several years ago. It had been my go-to skirt in college. I added a maroon turtleneck sweater, a wide belt and a pair of boots and I was ready for anything. I tried it on, knowing there was no way it would fit. It cut through my waist like a garrote as I tried to force the button into the hole. Nope, goodbye dirndl skirt. You did not spark joy! As I tossed it into the thrift store pile, I glanced at the label. It was FOUR SIZES larger than the size I was currently wearing, and I couldn’t get it on.

And to make things more confusing, each manufacturer targets its median size toward a different customer. Ann Taylor’s median woman is much different than American Eagle’s median customer. So you might be a comfortable 2 in Ann and find that you will need a 4 or 6 with the Eagle. Men’s wear has undergone the same changes; a pair of size 36 jeans at Old Navy actually measures a 41 inch waistband.

Vanity indeed! They have figured out that if we can buy a size or two smaller at their store, we will return. You got me, Ann.

Vanity, or the practice of focusing on worthless things, is nothing new. See what the writer of Ecclesiastes has to say about the vanity of his day:

Ecclesiastes 1 New King James Version (NKJV)

The Vanity of Life

1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

2 “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher;

“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

3 What profit has a man from all his labor

In which he toils under the sun?

4 One generation passes away, and another generation comes;

But the earth abides forever.

5 The sun also rises, and the sun goes down,

And hastens to the place where it arose.

6 The wind goes toward the south,

And turns around to the north;

The wind whirls about continually,

And comes again on its circuit.

7 All the rivers run into the sea,

Yet the sea is not full;

To the place from which the rivers come,

There they return again.

8 All things are full of labor;

Man cannot express it.

The eye is not satisfied with seeing,

Nor the ear filled with hearing.

9 That which has been is what will be,

That which is done is what will be done,

And there is nothing new under the sun.

10 Is there anything of which it may be said,

“See, this is new”?

It has already been in ancient times before us.

11 There is no remembrance of former things,

Nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come

By those who will come after.

Doesn’t that just cheer you right the heck up? Geez. But there is so much truth in it. Everything, and I mean everything, fades to nothing. You work hard all your life, and then your generation passes away and is replaced. The sun and the rivers remain, but for the rest of us, there is nothing new under the sun. So let this be our take-away this morning: it doesn’t matter what the number is on the label of your jeans. It doesn’t matter if you need to lose ten pounds or gain ten pounds. It doesn’t matter what you will wear today, so WHY WORRY?

What matters, what lasts, what is NOT vanity, is the one-size-fits-all love of God. Putting that on every morning will fit you for today and the rest of your life, until you reach your eternal destination. The rest? It’s all small stuff. Don’t sweat it.

One-size-fits-all love: it’s what all the cool kids are wearing.

Are We There Yet

Six and a half hours into the five hour drive, I realized that Connor had asked me, “Are we there yet?” at least a dozen times. I could sympathize. That is a long time to be stuck incarcerated in seatbelt, much less a carseat with an over the shoulders harness. Having no real sense of time or distance yet, it surely was frustrating to this four year old.

Finally I figured out a way to (hopefully) slow down the questions. The next time (approximately 3 minutes later) he asked, I said, “Connor, look out your window. Do you see your house?” He would crane his head around both sides of his car seat and answer, “No, Nana! I don’t see my house!” And I would say, “So are we there yet?”

Patience. It is a difficult thing to teach a child, especially when we’ve lost it ourselves. I have often confessed that my favorite prayer is, “Lord, give me patience. AND GIVE IT TO ME RIGHT NOW.”

James 5 counsels patience to an impatient world:

7-8 Meanwhile, friends, wait patiently for the Master’s Arrival. You see farmers do this all the time, waiting for their valuable crops to mature, patiently letting the rain do its slow but sure work. Be patient like that. Stay steady and strong. The Master could arrive at any time.

9 Friends, don’t complain about each other. A far greater complaint could be lodged against you, you know. The Judge is standing just around the corner.

10-11 Take the old prophets as your mentors. They put up with anything, went through everything, and never once quit, all the time honoring God. What a gift life is to those who stay the course! You’ve heard, of course, of Job’s staying power, and you know how God brought it all together for him at the end. That’s because God cares, cares right down to the last detail.

I wonder how much we actually think about the Master’s Arrival. Jesus has promised to return, and his Second Coming will usher in a new rule, a new world, and a new Kingdom on earth. But we walk around so consumed with our daily chores and burdens, we forget to anticipate that his return might be any day now.

But we’re not home just yet.

Impatience is a distractor that basically has no purpose. It doesn’t produce much beyond frustration, lack of focus, anger, and a feeling of annoyance. When children get impatient, we try to just distract them long enough for the thing to transpire. But as adults, we give into impatience and turn waiting into seething and seething into action. We take the matter into our own hands when we should have left well enough alone.

James encourages us to stay steady and strong. He reminds us that those who have staying power, those who stay the course, will discover that God is working to bring it all together for us in the end, just as he did for the old prophet mentors.

What are you pushing hard at right now? We often try to rush and hurry things that are better left to develop and grow on their own. A child who is slow to learn, an idea you are trying to promote, a marriage that has lost its charm, a dream you can’t wait to realize, a purchase you can’t afford without a credit card….life moves slowly at times and we impatiently force things that we shouldn’t.

James instructs us today to allow things to mature and be realized in their own time. God will bring rain that will do its slow but sure work to whatever it is you are trying to handle on your own. The farmer knows to wait. Be patient like that, and before you know it, you will be home.

Photo by Allison Brown.