Wednesday, February 24, 2010

reduced

So here I was today going through the metal detector at the county courthouse feeling a bit like a criminal...but no, I wasn't here for a court date but merely to pick up a copy of my birth certificate.

"Fill out the green card"

So I did; name, date of birth, city of birth, father's name, mother's maiden name... As I wrote their names an inexplicable sadness settled on me, and then swiftly deepened as I realized that, in the eyes of this office, the entirety of my life was reduced to the thickness of two sheets of paper; a birth certificate and a marriage license. My parents have lives three sheets thick as a death certificate is now also a part of their records...

Is that all a life is; one, two or three sheets of paper among the one, two or three sheets of the other three hundred eight million six hundred eighty-five thousand current people living in the United States?

It was sobering.

And then I found out that there is something wrong with my certificate so it has to be found and sent from the warehouse downtown...the instant mental picture was like something from Cold Case -a huge building filled rows and rows of metal racks stacked with cardboard file boxes containing hundreds of pieces of paper apiece and mine being in there. . . somewhere. . .

I'd been reduced to two sheets of paper, and one of those was missing...
Obituaries give me this same despondency; how that a person's entire life of many decades is reduced to "Spouse of…, survived by..., Chairman of bake sales and 40 years spent at XYZ company making widgets."

depressing isn't it?

I'm working on a biographical study of the life of John the apostle. In his gospel six times he refers to himself as "the one who Jesus loves.". Now in my research the intellectuals have been volleying questions for decades, "Who was the beloved disciple? Was it John? Was it another? Was it the author of John? Did someone else author John? If this is John why would he refer to himself in this manner?"

I don't need a thousand page textbook to tell me that answer, nor I suspect do you. Why would someone refer to himself as "the one who Jesus loves"? Is it pride? Are you shaking your head too because you know such a reference is the furthest thing from pride but more akin to amazed incredulousness?

The one that Jesus loves…

I am one that Jesus loves.

No matter the “thickness” of my life assessed by the County Office, or the length and content of my obituary I am one that Jesus loves.
Even though there are three hundred eight million six hundred eighty-five thousand people living in my country and hundreds of millions of official record papers that mine is lost among, the fact remains that I am loved by Christ.
I am not lost to him.
I am the apple of his eye (Zechariah 2:8) and engraved onto the palms of hands (Isaiah 49:16). He hears my prayers (Psalms 116:1,2) and is attentive to my needs.
He loves me with an everlasting love (Psalm 103:17) and has called me by name (Isaiah 43:1 ).

Birth certificate or not, He knows my name (John 10:37) and it is written in the Lamb's Book of Life; because of the blood of Christ my name has been written in the Book of Life...!(Rev. 21:27)

Hallelujah!
Who cares what the county says?! :)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Crippled Sheep, Facebook, and Lent

As I was on Facebook last night the status of a friend read "...is on for the last day until April 4th". It took me a few seconds to figure out what she was talking about until the light bulb went off and I realized April 4th was Easter which meant Lent was starting - which you think I would have realized as I still had the fruit filling dripping off my lips from enjoying our Fat Tuesday Paczkis! (You’ve got to love any holiday that celebrates with doughnuts!)

For years Lent was a foreign concept to this Fundamental independent Baptist raised girl yet now I live and move in a community of Irish Catholics and Protestant traditions that recognize Lent. It boggles my mind every year to see people walking around with an ash cross on their foreheads. I say to my chagrin that I don't think I could do that - the Lenten version of wearing your heart on your sleeve. I've also never succeeded in giving up anything. I always think about it and always think the most sacrificial thing I could do would be coffee... (She types as she reaches for the hot cup of that very stuff next to her....) But I’m familiar with my own heart and know that I’d spend the next forty days trying to find a substitute and that I’d be really crabby and would be acting in a decidedly un Jesus- like fashion- which I believe kind of defeats the whole purpose!

In all of it though, drinking or not drinking, cross or no cross, it comes down to what is in our hearts. God hates false worship – He’d rather have no worship that a worship of words without the inclusion of your heart.

In Malachi God rebuked His people saying, “When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, it that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you? Oh that you would shut the temple doors , so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you…Cursed is the cheat that has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.” (1:8,10,14)
You remember the rules don’t you? The people of Israel were to bring a sheep for sacrifice that was perfect, strong and without any kind of defect. The sheep’s death would serve as the atonement for the sins of the people. Can’t you hear the wheels turning though? Why should I take my best animal? He’d be a great breeder and/ or he’s worth a lot of money? Why should I give my very best just to partake in some tradition we’ve been observing for thousands of years? It’s going to be killed anyway, hundreds of sheep will come through those gates today, what possible difference could it make?

The condition of the sheep didn’t make a difference; however the heart condition of the giver made all the difference in the world. Remember the widow of Mark 12 who put her two mites into the offering and was commended by Jesus because others had given from their abundance but she’d given all she had? She’d given her best.

How are our hearts? Are we bringing God the best we have; the best of our time, talents and energy? You, in ministry, it’s so easy (because it’s so busy!) to slip into doing just what you have to in program or preparation, so you can get onto the next thing! We all have more tasks than time, more month than money, more give than take, but we also have the ability, in whatever it is we’re doing, or not doing (in the case of Lent), to offer it to God from true hearts, bringing our best and thereby affirming that “You are a great King Lord God Almighty! You are worthy of the very best that I have!”

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Post-It Psalms

I love a good turn of phrase and I don't think I'm alone in this admiration for a clever combination of subject, verb and modifier as our culture is awash in quotes, jingles, and pithy bumper stickers! (well at least a few of them are...) You can now even buy giant sticker phrases to put on your walls so that you can always remember to "Live, Laugh, Love" or "Life is not measured by the breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away". It's all great stuff how a giant concept can be reduced to a memorable (and decorative!) sentence.

This morning I had the gift of being able to leisurely spend some time in the Psalms and, as I've been reading, I've found a plethora of phrases to pull out and plaster on my painted porticoes (okay, I'll stop!) but let me share a few first...

For you are God, my only safe haven (43:2)

The Lord Almighty is here among us (47:7)

How great is the Lord and how much we should praise Him. (48:1)

As your name deserves O God you will be praised to the end of the earth (48:10)

He is our God forever and ever and He will be our guide until we die (48:14)

I cry out to God Most High, to God who will fulfill His purpose for me. (57:2)

My heart is confident in you O God. (57:7)

Let me encourage you, when you get the chance, to go into the Psalms and find some phrases that crystallize for you the concepts of God's love, glory and care.
But as for me right now, I'm going to find some post-it notes and a pen...!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Few, The Humble, The Remnant

A remnant is a small part, a tiny amount of the original, or what remains after the rest is gone.

I’ve been studying the prophetic books and the period of time between the Old and New Testament and it’s all about the remnant God preserved of the people of Israel. They’d been conquered and lead into captivity as God’s judgment for their rejection of Him. Thousands, and tens of thousands of God’s people turned to worship idols, only a handful stayed true to Jehovah, and God preserved these ones that continued to seek him.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of Heaven but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Matthew 7:21-23

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13,14

You, who are on the narrow road, have you considered lately what an amazing thing your location is?

Many will say in that day…. Broad is the way that leads to destruction…
You are one of few.
I can't get pass this point today. Of all the people I will rub shoulders with on any given day there are only a few who can attest to the fact that "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children."Romans 8:16 Although we live in a "Christian" nation and everyone knows God's name, He tells us that only a small number are seeking Him.

“God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases Him.” Philippians 2;13
You are one of the humble for all in our hearts that yearns for God has been placed there by Him. We are not saved because of our own merits! (Ephesians 2:8,9) Nor do we continue to seek Him because of our own goodness but because He places that desire in our hearts.

“You have not chosen me but I have chosen you” John 15:16
You are one of a remnant God is preserving to proclaim His glory.
You, and I, our names called to be the children of God, called to be His messengers in this world, chosen to show those around us what a life lived to the glory of an Almighty God looks like. He entrusted this to us!
We, the few, the humbled, the on our faces before God in awesome gratitude, amazement, and unworthiness. . .




Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"Can I see the blueprint please?"

It's the first question we ask when something bad takes place. "Why did this happen to me?!"

And typically it takes the long lens of time to see the answer; and I for one, hate that. I want to know why now and if not immediately, then very soon.

Why am I going through this? I want to know there is a reason and that this anguish is not just some random event. I am quick to look for applications, maybe it's the teacher in me, and usually some explanations are readily available, like a “silver lining” and while it does not completely assuage the giant grey cloud, it helps.

This was not the case of Ezekiel the exile...
The king of Babylon had conquered Jerusalem and carried off 10,000 exiles and twenty-five year old Ezekiel was one of them. He was the son of a priest. And that's significant because historically the priests began their service at the age of thirty. So all his life, one can surmise, Ezekiel had planned to be a temple priest and offer the sacrifices to the Lord, but now that was impossible. He was an exile in a foreign land which meant he was no longer at the Temple, why had this happened to him?

On July 31st of my thirtieth year, while I was with the Judean exiles besides the Keber River in Babylon, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God...”Stand up, son of man,” said the voice. “I want to speak with you”...I listened carefully to His words. “Son of man” He said, “I am sending you to the nation of Israel, a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me. But I am sending you to say to them ‘This is what the Lord says!’ And whether they listen or refuse to listen...at least they will know they have had a prophet among them." Ezekiel 1:1, 2:1,3,5

God called Ezekiel to be a prophet and gave him a message for the exiles in Babylon, and that is the book of the Bible we have today known as Ezekiel. God had a big plan for him, but Ezekiel didn't know that for five years... For five years he, along with the other exiles, wondered what had happened and what was going to happen to them. For FIVE YEARS Ezekiel had more questions than answers...
We can look at the other Bible characters with similar stories; Ruth's husband dies and she follows her mother-in-law to a land foreign to her- and becomes the grandmother of King David. Esther wins the "Miss Persia" beauty contest and is now married to the king and consequently ends up saving her entire race of people. We know their complete stories therefore we see the answers to their questions of "Why?" but we don't have that luxury in our own life or the lives of those around us.

I attended a memorial service this weekend for friends whose baby died after a life of only eleven days. Why? Why would a young couple with a strong faith in God lose their precious baby? They haven’t gotten any instant answers for there are none; however, through all of this another young couple has stood with them who had lost their own baby a year earlier...

It would be so helpful if God would take us into his drafting room and roll out before us the blueprints of our lives and there on paper we’d be able to see the whole plan and understand how each part fits into the whole. But that’s not the case is it?

So if we have no instant answers what do we have? How do we answer this question of “Why has this happened to me?”

God doesn’t promise us we’ll understand, but He does ask us to trust. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding…” Proverbs 3:5

There’s a song in which the lyrics say “If you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart”. And no matter if the answers are near at hand or far off in the future this is the one thing we can do. We remember that we are His children and that He is our Father. He knows how weak we are. He knows the beginning from the end. He knows what we can take and promises that we will not have more than we can bear. God loves us more than we can ever love Him or anyone else. The truest answers are in the character of our Savior. He’s not abandoned you for He’s promised He will never leave you (Hebrews 13:5) “The Lord hears his people when they call...The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” Psalms 34:17,18

Find your answers in His heart.