Wisdom

Bring Your Friends

Mark 2:2-5 

“A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man,
“Son, your sins are forgiven.”

 Tijge’s Sunday school lesson last week focused on Mark 2:2-5, and the paralytic whose friends brought him to see Jesus. For days afterward, Tijge asked us questions about the story. Why couldn’t they use the door? Why did he have bad muscles? Why was the house crowded? Why did he need a mat? Over and over he would ask, trying to understand the story. He even built a diorama of the scene using various toys around the house. It was interesting to see how, even for a three and a half-year old, this story is compelling.

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When teachers speak on this passage, they typically speak of Jesus; or of the crowds; or of the paralytic. But once I heard a message that focused on the four friends that brought the paralytic to Jesus, and the teacher challenged audience members to be the kinds of friends that would do the same.

Awhile back, I considered this passage in light of Ecclesiastes 3:11. You see, sometimes I get so caught up in MY journey that I forget about those around me. But we should live not just with a focus on ourselves and our eternal destiny, but also on others. If God has set eternity in the hearts of ALL men, then we should seek to help others recognize and follow that longing in their own hearts; and in so doing, bring as many others with us as possible—to the cross, to Jesus, and to heaven.

And so I ask: Am I that kind of friend? Are you?

 

Honor

1 Peter 5:5
“Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.”

It’s New Year’s Day. Florida State has just suffered a humiliating loss to Oregon. Then the announcer comes on the air stating that 70% of the FSU players headed straight for the locker room without congratulating their opponents. I was appalled. I was glad to see that Jameis Winston was one of those who remained and accepted defeat with dignity. That is what I would expect from a team leader and Heisman Award winner.

In the aftermath of this disappointing scene, I’ve read several excuses for the players’ swift departure from the field. I read somewhere, for instance, that the players on both teams were asked prior to the game to exit the field quickly after the game, in order to allow for the trophy presentation. But as a coach or a player, I personally would have refused the request. And since 30% of the team chose to stay, it seems that would have been an option for the other 70%.

I read an interesting perspective by Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel (January 2), wherein he wrote: “Good grief, this isn’t Little League Baseball where it’s traditional for teams to form a line and shake hands.” But I have to disagree. Is there typically a physical line-up? Maybe not. But in my experience watching college football, there’s usually kind of a mosh-pit style gathering at midfield, where players from both sides do shake hands and congratulate one another. And you know what? Even if Mike’s right and this practice isn’t as common as the rest of us think, maybe it SHOULD be.

Sportsmanship should be the hallmark of college athletics—along with any other athletics, for that matter. It demonstrates honor and humility, both of which are great character traits that should be instilled in athletes through their participation in sports. So how do we instill those traits when things like this happen? Here are a couple of ideas that come to mind for me, in relation to this particular instance:

  • If I’m in a leadership position with the Seminoles (a coach, a team captain), I’m standing at the tunnel directing players back on to the field to congratulate the victors on a game well played.
  • If I miss the players there, I’m going into the locker room and sending them back out.
  • If I’m a coach, and players refuse to demonstrate sportsmanship, I’m going to bench them. They won’t play again until they write a sincere letter of apology to the opposing team.
  • As a coach, I’m writing a public letter apologizing to the other team and to the fans on behalf of my players and promising to do whatever it takes to rectify the problem.

But I think we should be starting earlier, when kids are playing at a “little league” level. So I have some plans for how I will encourage sportsmanship for my own kids when they start to get involved in sports or other competitive pursuits:

  • I’ll be a positive role model to my kids by not making sports out to be more important than they are. I will foster a “winning isn’t everything” attitude. I won’t fight with the referees or the coaches or the other parents in the stands.
  • If my kids refuse to shake an opponent’s hand or congratulate them, if they act like “sore losers,” they’ll be grounded. And they won’t play again until they write a letter of apology to each and every member of the opposing team.

So who’s with me? Let’s make sure that our athletes are known for their sportsmanship, and the level of honor they display while playing the game.Lj Baseball Helmet 1

Higher Aspirations

There was a popular song that got a lot of attention last year. I heard it for the first, second, and third times on various morning shows on which the band (The Wanted) was performing. And it was catchy. It was. I bought it, I listen to it, and often I sing along. But if I really listen to the lyrics, I find myself challenged. They read:

 “When my time is over, lying in my grave
Written on my tombstone, I want it to say,
‘This man was a legend, a legend of his time.
When he was at a party, the party never died.’”

Really? You want that to be your legacy? That you were the life of the party? I feel like we can do better. We can hope for more. We can aspire to more. If I could choose what I would be remembered for, the list would look something like this:

 

  • Loving God
  • Loving my family
  • Serving others
  • Inspiring others
  • Caring for and giving to those in need
  • Forgiving those who have wronged me
  • Making a difference in people’s lives

 

I could go on, but it would take a long time for me to get far enough on the list that I would add “being the life of the party” to it. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all have a purpose on this earth. And I think that for each of us, that purpose is big and meaningful. It will look different for you than it will for me. And sometimes, each of us may feel unsure about what that purpose is. But I think that, if we are going to find that purpose, we need to have higher aspirations than the world has for us. We must refuse to settle for anything less than our life’s calling. With New Year’s upon us, now is a great time to reflect on what having higher aspirations might look like for YOU. And then make your resolutions accordingly. I know I will.

Happy New Year, everyone!

 

Journey

I originally wrote this week’s entry back in February…yes, it’s another that I wrote before launching this blog. But I felt like it was appropriate for this time of year, with Christmas and New Year’s resolutions.

Jeremiah 29:11

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord,
‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

For probably 15 years, I’ve been holding onto an empty picture frame. It quotes Jeremiah 29:11. I guess I’ve been waiting to fill it because I was waiting for that promised “future” to arrive. Never mind that, over that time period, I’ve earned two advanced degrees, met and married the man of my dreams, and welcomed two beautiful children into the world. I’m not sure what future I’ve been waiting for. I suppose the future just doesn’t feel complete yet. But it occurred to me recently that the “plans” God has for me unfold along the way to the future He’s promised. They’re snapshots, moments in time—and they are all designed to prosper and not to harm, and to someday transpire into the ultimate future and hope. And the part of the plan I am experiencing now is not the part of the plan that I will be experiencing five years, or even five months, from now. But that’s the beauty of picture frames—you can change out the photos!

So today, I climbed up into our dusty attic, dug around through my box of picture frames, and pulled that frame out. It now holds a photo of our family enjoying our Christmas vacation in snowy Michigan.

 

Winter Family Photo-Journey

 

As God’s plans for us change, so will the photo. Perhaps the background and scenery will change; or perhaps our family will grow. We pray, just as Jabez (1 Chronicles 4:10) did, that God would expand our territory, in whatever way He chooses. But we also pray that God would make us content in our current circumstances, knowing that His plans are being fulfilled in His time. And, of all the ironies, I realized that—in the largest print on the frame—it actually reads, “JOURNEY.” How did it take me 15 years to figure out what was there in front of me from the beginning?

For Granted

Luke 12:19-21 

“And I will say to my soul,
‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come;
take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’”
But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you;
and now who will own what you have prepared?”
So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

 

DPP_0057
On Tuesday afternoon, it was 65 degrees and sunny here in central Texas—a perfect day for a walk. We took one of our regular routes and passed a car that is often parked outside of a house that we walk by. It reminded me of a similar walk past that same car that we took shortly after returning home from our summer visit to Minnesota.

“I want the top down on that convertible,” Tijge had declared. His comment made me think of how I can probably count on one finger the number of times I’ve seen a convertible with the top down in Texas. Not so in Minnesota. Even over a short visit, I would need many more hands than I have to count the number of convertibles with their tops down. Shoot, if it hits 50 degrees and it isn’t raining, you can pretty safely wager that my dad will have the top down.

So why is this? I mean, in Texas, we have arguably much better weather for a good bit of the year than they do up north. Sure, the summer sun gets a little too hot and a little too strong. But what about the fall, winter, and spring? In essence, it seems like people here take for granted the nearly ever-present option to put the top down. So they don’t need to do it today. They can put it off indefinitely, really. In Minnesota, they know that, in just a few short weeks, the top will go up and stay up for the next nine months. So they don’t take it for granted.

This same phenomenon helps to explain why people who live further from their families often spend more time with them than those who live nearby. It explains why, when we think to send a note of encouragement, we put it off until later. It explains why, when it occurs to us to do something nice for someone in need, we pawn it off on someone else. We figure, Hey, I can always do it some other time. But according to Luke 12, this isn’t the case. I’ll bet that Luke understood the parable of the rich fool better than most. As a physician, he must have often seen injuries and illnesses take lives quite unexpectedly. So we are never guaranteed tomorrow. Period.

In the traditional sense, to take something for granted means to use, accept, or treat it in a careless or indifferent manner. But what if we think about that phrase from another perspective? “Granted” can also mean bestowed, conferred, given, or granted as a privilege or a right. What if we started seeing those things that God has granted us for today as a priceless and treasured gift, or as a sacred trust to manage and care for? When I look at the phrase this way, there are a few things I want to start taking for granted. How about you?

Redeemed unto Reconciliation

That we as Christians have been given the ministry of reconciliation isn’t exactly news. After all, Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 5:18 that God “reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” He also said that, as far as it depends on us, we are to “be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18). But, if you’re anything like me, this is one of those things that falls squarely into the ‘easier said than done’ category. So I welcomed the recent sermon series that our pastor preached on this subject. While I learned a lot from the entire four-week series, I can also say that there were several “tweetable” tidbits (c/o @bradyherbert) that really spoke to me. I hope they will speak to all of you as well.

  1. When we look for God’s goodness in someone, it’s impossible to make them our enemy. And I would add that when we look for the good that God might be working both in and through that person, we are better able to move toward reconciliation. This concept reminds me of a strategy you’ve probably heard about before. When we pray for others (and more specifically, our enemies), we are drawn to them and God gives us a greater level of compassion for them. Of course, that means that we pray for God’s blessings in their lives. We pray that He would comfort, guide, and—yes—convict. But we don’t pray that they would ‘get what’s coming to them.’ We don’t pray that God would ‘smite’ them. We pray for God’s best for them. And in the process, we are changed.
  2. I can forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in me. This logic requires that we identify and acknowledge what I like to call our ‘Mother of All Sins’ (M.O.A.S). If you can’t admit that you’ve ever done anything inexcusable, if you can’t understand why Jesus had to die for your sins, this will be VERY hard—if not impossible—to do. Now, I know what some of you are saying: “No, that’s not right—all sin is the same to God.” And you’re right. But all sin is NOT the same to US. If you steal a pen from work, there is no way you’re going to feel a sense of grief over your sin. If you were to kill someone—and I’m not suggesting that you should—you would feel a much greater sense of remorse. So we, as finite humans, tend to rank sins from least to most egregious. Then we set a threshold beyond which sins are ‘worth’ Christ’s sacrifice. And each of us needs to identify and OWN whatever sin or sins we feel are worth that punishment. This can be especially hard if you’ve grown up in the church. Many ‘lifelong’ believers lament that they “don’t have a testimony” because they never joined a gang or got into drugs or what have you. But you MUST find your testimony. I believe that the best way to do this is to pray, humbly asking God to reveal to you your areas of weakness and sin, so that you can repent.
  3. If someone refuses to repent, “treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18: 17). Our pastor, Brady, rightly pointed out how many of us use this verse as a license to wash our hands of another and throw them out of the church. I have to confess, that’s how I’ve always read that verse. But if you think about it, that’s not at all how Jesus treated pagans and tax collectors. He pursued them, he loved them, he sought reconciliation with them, and—lest we forget—he DIED for them. I find that I often judge nonbelievers less harshly than I do other Christians. I mean, Christians should know better, right? But if a believer is caught in sin, or is unwilling to reconcile, then we must conclude that something is keeping them from embracing the salvation that they claim. Thinking of it that way, I feel led to respond with compassion and sympathy, and to pray that they would be reconciled first with God, and then with the Church. And one more thing: we can never give up. I’ve heard of believing parents with children who have gone astray. They pray constantly for many years and they NEVER give up on their kids’ souls. That is the essence of the parables of the prodigal son, the lost sheep, and the missing coin. And our love and compassion should be as relentless as God’s.
  4. We must awaken the desire for reconciliation. The final message in this series offered a lot of practical tips to help us move from a place of knowing that we should reconcile, or believing that we can reconcile, to a place where we can honestly say that we want to reconcile. Here are some of the biggies:
  • We need to develop empathy and compassion for those with whom we seek to reconcile.
  • We need to avoid the temptation to morally ‘separate ourselves’ from the other person—essentially viewing them as inferior to ourselves. Instead, we need to find a common ground from which we can reach out in love, grace, and mercy.
  • We need to remember that we are all created in the image of God and are worth of being treated with human dignity. And finally,
  • We need to remember that we ourselves are finite beings and that God may be working an angle that we can’t see—or possibly even imagine.

So, when we think about all of these pieces in the puzzle of reconciliation, I hope that we are each prompted to take a step or two in that direction. And in that way, one small step after another, we will hopefully end up a lot closer to the peace that we are called to pursue.

What God Has Purposed

I heard awhile back that our calling is where our talents and our burdens collide. But I think callings can still be shrouded in mystery and uncertainty. Certainly, God provides guidance through His Word, His Spirit, and His people. But, as I’ve said over and over, we—as mere mortals and finite beings—do not and cannot know the precise will of God. We move in what we hope is the right direction. We remind ourselves that “it’s easier to steer a moving ship.” We trust and pray that God will “order our steps” (Psalm 37:23; Proverbs 16:9)–that He will open and shut doors of opportunity, and schedule divine appointments—all in pursuit of an ever-elusive calling.

So, I have hopes and dreams that may or may not come to pass. One big one is the desire God has given me to adopt a child. I sense the great need among children to be deeply loved, and I feel that God has given me a “talent” for motherly love. I think our family would be a great place for an adopted child to find the love they need from us and from the Heavenly Father. I pray we would have the opportunity to provide that for one special, God-ordained child. But there are many logistics that need to fall into place in order for this dream to be fulfilled. The truth is, I don’t know if adoption is even in God’s will for us. He hasn’t given me that promise. But I find peace and comfort in what HAS been promised: that what GOD has purposed will come to pass (Isaiah 14), and that all things will work together for good (Romans 8:28) and for His glory (John 9:1-3). And that is more than enough!

Don’t Follow Your Heart

Jeremiah 17:9
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

We’ve all heard people say, “Follow your heart.” This philosophy may explain many people’s fears and aversions toward death and heaven. Left to their own devices, our hearts often seek other, more worldly things. But the heart is deceitful above all things. The Bible is full of stories detailing the destruction that follows when we follow our hearts. Look at David and Bathsheba! And if you need more proof, read the book of Judges. Watch what havoc is wreaked in individual lives and in society as a whole when people do “what is right in their own eyes,” in other words, when they follow their hearts.

God has given us divine instructions—along with intellect, reason, wisdom, and a renewal of the mind—so that we can “test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). We need to seek and follow His will. And when we point our hearts toward Him, we will find that they actually point toward heaven, not away.

Test Me in This

Malachi 3:10

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,”
says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven
and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

Isn’t it intriguing how God can speak to different people in so many different ways through a single message? Our pastor, Brady, just finished a sermon series on stewardship, entitled, “For the Love of Money.” Malachi 3:10 states that there is exactly one realm of our lives wherein we are invited, and even encouraged, to TEST the Lord our God. That one realm is stewardship. And throughout my life, I’ve taken God at His word, and have given Him the first fruits of my efforts. And no matter what I’ve faced, God has delivered. I have never had an expense, expected or otherwise, that I haven’t been able to pay. I can’t say that there has always been anything leftover afterward, but there has always been enough.

So needless to say, I didn’t expect this series to speak very loudly to me. But, on the last Sunday of the series, God spoke to me. And actually, it was the benediction that first caught my attention. Our missions pastor mentioned how help was still needed in setting up for and tearing down after the Compassion Mobile Experience over the weekend (http://www.compassion.com/change/default.htm?referer=134089). “Maybe you have some extra time that you could give,” is what he said. But in my mind I thought, Well, I don’t have extra time. I don’t have enough time to do all of the things that are on my plate as it is. But that thought triggered another. During the sermon, Bracdy had challenged college students to give to the church, addressing the common ‘moral’ objection that many of them have to giving their parents’ money—money that isn’t technically theirs. But Brady suggested that the same moral conviction doesn’t come into play when it’s a matter of buying a case of Red Bull, or a coffee, or a sorority t-shirt (#Lawyered). So I reflected for a moment on all of the things that I would make time for: exercise, coffee with a friend, Dancing with the Stars, and on and on.

And I heard a still small voice saying, “Test me in this.” And I did. I signed up to help with both the setup and tear down. And God rewarded me. I got to meet a great group of people on the Compassion event staff, and I got to serve in a way that was uniquely suited to my gifts and passions (and those opportunities are hard to come by). For me, that would have been enough. But now I can also say that I am almost caught up with my other obligations. In fact, I’m probably closer to caught up than I’ve been in months. Granted, I had to skip my workout for a couple of days, and I had to work all weekend (I caught most of the highlights of the Baylor game on instant replay while multitasking). But, as is always the case, God was faithful. He passed the test with flying colors—and was there really any doubt that He would?

So, how about you? When you hear that still small voice, will you listen?

Seven-eighths

I had certain plans in mind for this week’s blog, but today I was made aware that this is Mental Health Awareness Week. So, having a bit of personal experience in that area, I thought I’d take a moment to acknowledge others who may also be struggling. If you ask my friends and family to describe my personality, they might tell you that I’m melancholy. Or, they might describe me as cynical. I tend to describe myself as a “glass seven-eighths empty” kind of person. Now, that may or may not come across in my blog entries, and that may or may not be the Zoloft talking—but whatever the case may be, I have a great deal of sympathy for people near to and distant from me who struggle with all varieties of mental illness and related challenges. Even people who don’t suffer from a diagnosable mental illness can experience bouts of sadness, doubt, low self-esteem, anxiety, stress, you name it.

It would appear from various sources of research that mental illness is on the rise and especially so in America. Now, certainly, that is partly attributable to higher rates of diagnosis, greater possibilities for effective treatment, and a lifting of the stigma that once accompanied an “admission” of anything but the most stable mental and emotional condition. But also most certainly, there are a lot of sources of discontent out there that are inhibiting many from embracing the abundant life that God intended for them. We can see that even in the rash of celebrity suicides that seems to have plagued our society during the recent years.

A view that is very common among those struggling with mental health issues is that things will never get better. From experience, I can say—no, I can PROMISE—that they do. As a young girl, I wrote a lot of poetry. Nowadays, I have found other outlets for self-expression, and I write many fewer poems. But for this blog, I searched through an old notebook to find just the right one to close with:

Too Weary Have I Grown
(April 11, 1995)IMG_7267

I cannot
No longer have I the strength
No longer can I carry on
I tried, and thought I could,
But too heavy is the load I carry
Too long is the path I face
Too weary have I grown
Too many are my burdens
Too few are my allies
Too distant are the pleasures of this journey
And I cannot go on.

 

If you can relate to these feelings, then believe me when I say that you CAN go on.