20 May, 2017

Follow Me

The slow-down of summer is before us.  In my youth, I can well remember languid summer days.  I would wake up after my parents had left for work and eagerly anticipate a day of friends, food and pool time.  Unfortunately, there were days that a 'to do' list was awaiting me and that was not to my liking.  Wash, vacuum, dust, help with dinner, practice the piano, etc.  Ugh, I wanted a totally free existence; one where I could follow my every whim.  I guess I'm saying I wanted to follow me.   Yes, certainly, that is it.  I wanted to follow my whims, my ideas and my desires.  I, in no way, wanted to follow my mom and her instructions for those summer months.

Here I find myself entering another series of summer months many years later.  There is a part of me that looks to long, lazy summer days in which I follow only my whims.  But a stronger part of me has decided to create a different summer.  I've decided to intentionally write this summer.  Every two weeks, I will write based on the book of Matthew.  Not just when I feel a whim but an intentional effort to follow the Me mentioned in Matthew 4.  Will you intentionally walk with me this summer?

     "As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. " Matthew 4:18-22
I want to ponder of few of the phrases in this story of early Christ-followers.  I'm perplexed and amazed and I'm fairly certain that I would have not followed Jesus that day. 

•Fishing - It was their regular work. 
•Jesus said to them, Follow me.  I'll make a new kind of fisherman out of you.  I'll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.
•They didn't ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed.
•They were quick to follow..."immediately"
•Abandoning boat and father

It was a regular work day; these guys were doing their everyday tasks as Jesus, previously unknown to them, walks up and puts a call on their lives.  Follow Me.  Henri Nouwen* offers this insight, "One of his [Jesus] first steps is to call disciples to follow him and share in his ministry.  Then Jesus goes up onto the mountain, gathers his disciples around him, and says: "How blessed are the poor, the gentle, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for uprightness, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness."  These words present a portrait of the child of God.  It is a self-portrait of Jesus, the Beloved Son.  It is also a portrait of me as I must be."

I've always wondered what it REALLY means to follow Him.  Of course, there are simple and obvious answers that speak to our salvation.  But to those fisherman that day surely, they wondered 'follow you, where?'.  After asking no questions and leaving all they had ever known...surely.

Is this story from Matthew really any different from our lives? Those of us who have previously encountered Jesus have had this very opportunity.  But....I seem to be stuck in my workplace, i.e. still fishing for perch and bass or tending a net when the call has been long since uttered and His call is so much greater.  And as Nouwen speculates maybe Follow Me means so much more than I've dared considered.  
Follow Me and let me teach you how to be poor
Follow Me and let me teach your harsh, unloving heart to be gentle
Follow Me and let me teach you how to hunger and thirst for uprightness
Follow Me and let me teach you mercy
Follow Me and let me help you grow into a pure heart
Follow Me and let me transform you into a peacemaker

What would it mean in my life to walk away from the work I know, the everyday life I live and Follow Him?  Would others receive more of His love?  Would others come to know Him?  How would my life be different?  What if I follow and allow Him to change me into a poor, gentle person? A person hungering and thirsting for uprightness, a person of mercy and a pure heart, a peacemaker....what if?  What if following Him in this deep, life changing way leads to greater fulfillment, greater purpose, greater Joy?

And for those of you reading who have never chosen to Follow this Jesus...think about His offer.  It's so simple yet so brilliant and complete.  Follow Me and I will fulfill all that you've been searching for, all the questions you've asked, all the emptiness that never gets filled.  Leave your nets...Follow.

*The Return of the Prodigal Son, p. 54

16 April, 2017

Monday's Choice

Cross posted from Fortyfaithful.blogspot.com

The big day has come and gone.  Baby chicks, Easter eggs, chocolate, and the Easter festivities have once again passed.  It's on to graduations, vacations and summer days.  The 40 days of Lent are over and Easter is over, isn't it?  Are you different this Monday after Easter Sunday?

This next thought may shock some of you but I've often speculated that the formal church is too focused on the cross of Christ. That's a disturbing sentence, I know, but hear me out!  In our Christian culture, we are taught early in life about Jesus and his work on the cross.  His beautiful and complete grace that covers our sin and selfishness and gives those who believe in Him eternal life.  That is a Truth; for without His death we would be without hope, without life.  However...

...is that where many of us stop?  Do we stop our lives at Jesus' death on the cross?  Oh, we celebrate Easter Sunday in our finery and with our families but can we say we're living Easter on Monday?

Could it be that we are living only half of the Good News?  We call Friday of Holy week...Good Friday as it was good for us that Jesus gave His life so that we may live today and forever.  But I contend that we are stuck on Good Friday.  We are stuck in the pain and anguish of our own lives.  We know what happened on Easter Sunday in Jesus' life but for some reason we have chosen to remain in a 'Friday' lifestyle.  WHAT?

As Christ followers, we are invited to have our own Good Friday where our problems and our pain are put to death.  And, then experience an Easter Sunday in which we receive new life!  But we tend to stay in Friday and our pain from this world consumes our entire attention span.  And life does hurt.  It's hurts so badly to be rejected.  It hurts so badly to lose people to death, particularly death that is violent and random.  It hurts to see sickness and addiction in those we love.  It hurts to have no one to love or to be loved by no one.  It hurts to be lonely and isolated.  We have forgotten what Sunday offers us and our pain!
...they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen! Luke 24:2-6
He is not here!  He has risen.  That is the message the Bible teaches and that is the life we are offered...a way of real life and Joy in our Monday world.  Jesus' message was certainly one of redemption and salvation and life eternal.  AND, it was also a message of Joy, of overcoming, of living life to the fullest in the midst of earthly pain.  We say we love Him and believe in this message but are we living it?  Are we looking for the dead among the living?  Do I keep looking at my dead pain instead of looking at my alive Joy?  Easter is the day to celebrate that He has overcome our pain and loss.  And, Easter is also the day to wake up and live life to the fullest. Yes, there is pain in our world but He has overcome this pain.

This is the Monday choice.  No one can do this for me.  I can stay tied up in my Good Friday pain, hurt, disappointments and insecurity.  Or I can choose a new way....a way of living life to the fullest.  Choosing an Easter Monday does not mean that I forget my pain; it simply means I choose Jesus over my pain.  I choose to let Him use that pain so that I may help others.  I choose to let Him use that pain to grow me into who He dreamed.

Hallelujah, He is not among the dead.  He is alive!  Are we brave enough to let go of our 'identity of pain' and choose the Joy He offers.  He HAS overcome the world.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

09 April, 2017

Today, I am Hungry - 6th Sunday in Lent

Cross posted from Fortyfaithful.blogspot.com
Kale, Left-over fried chicken, coconut and Greek olives...you have 30 minutes to turn this into a wonderful entree for our judges.  Time starts NOW.  This is the Chopped kitchen which airs on the Food Network.  I'm obsessed with this show.  I love to cook and I look to eat and I love watching the chefs try and make something delicious out of ridiculous ingredients.

There are dozens of cooking shows on TV that teach us about new techniques and new foods as though we've become bored with our everyday food.  We don't just want daily food anymore, we want new food, something different, less calories/fat/sugar, etc.  Yes, more please.  Food is not just a daily necessity for us; it has become a hobby.  It's a planned event and for some it's a beautiful memory of home, family and a time of connection.  But today, I don't want to go down memory lane (I could...easily...because no one cooked like my mama and I miss her and her kitchen).  

But today, my thoughts lead me down a less traveled path. 

Give us this day our daily bread (Matthew 6:11)....
And this further Word,

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:25-26)

I find it interesting that these two verses are found in the same chapter of the Bible.  They are found in Jesus' teaching after being asked the question, 'teach us to pray'.  He answers this one question with a long teaching session that covers many life issues.  But what we are focused on today is unique to me. I'm focused on these three phrases...Give us this day our daily bread...is not life more than food...look at the birds they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and YET your heavenly Father feeds them.

Have we forgotten this simple message?  Are we so obsessed with new, different and more? Do we really believe He can and will care for us as he does the birds?  Honestly, I'm a little more comfortable knowing I have money in the bank for food tomorrow and a savings account just in case my world turns upside down.  And as Scott mentioned, perhaps we've begun to believe that we are the ones providing ourselves with our food.  It's our hard work, our accomplishments and our paychecks that provide today and tomorrow's food for our tables.  
So who am I relying on?  It feels like the answer is 'me'.  And oh, how I hate that thought.  Please Lord, give us what we need not what we want.  Isn't that what 'daily bread' means?  In our fear and insecurity, do we strive for more and more....just in case tomorrow is a disaster?  I know me.  I know I am not enough and never will be enough.  However, my soul knows the truth...there is only one Gardener who provides and through the words 'daily bread' he's teaching us to trust only in Him for today's food, shelter and life.

I contend that as much food as we have in the world, many of us are still hungry and I don't mean those who are in the world and truly starving.  I mean those of us comfortable in our homes with full refrigerators and full everything else.

Proverbs offered an interesting word to me recently.  It reads like this:
“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
    do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’" Proverbs 30:7-9a

So, could 'Give us this day our daily bread', truly mean:  Lord, give me only what I need in this day otherwise, I may have too much and disown you...Otherwise, I may have too much and say 'Who is the Lord'?

In our North American wealth, has this happened to us?  Has this happened in you?  And yes, has this happened in me?  When I pray, give us this day our daily bread, I pray it is only enough to sustain me for fear that my selfishness will lead me to forget who HE is....my only provider, my only life source, my one and only, Bread of Life.

one day
one bird
one basket
one fish
one loaf
one prayer
one Lord
one pilgrim
one journey

more than enough
more than I can imagine
more than I expected
more than I can fathom
more than I hoped
more than others
more than most
more in one day

I need
I admit
I submit
I acknowledge
I thirst
I hunger 

Just today: I come, I bow, I ask, I eat, I'm filled
Tomorrow will care for itself
One bird, one life, one day

28 March, 2017

The Rocks Cry Out

It was so busy.  So very many details swirled around us for weeks and months, so many decisions, so much excitement and so much stress!  But the day arrived and I stood in the bridal suite watching my daughter with her closest friends.  They laughed, danced, had makeup and hair stylists surrounding them.  We all dressed in our finery and danced some more...yes, I confess, me too!  Then we shooed the girls out so the bride could dress.  As I helped her into her beautiful gown time seemed to slow down and memories flooded through me.  Her hair bows, her beautiful little girl dresses, her first bike ride, the way she liked to swirl in a full skirt, the way she looked at me...oh, the way she looked at me.  Those are priceless memories.  Soon, the bridal party was allowed back into the room and they gasped and praised this beautiful bride.  And yes...she is incredibly beautiful inside and out.  Moments passed so quickly and before I knew it I was on the front row, standing as the bride entered the chapel on the arm of my beloved.  Her groom was awestruck.  He swayed back and forth and never took his eyes from her entry.  Tears streamed down his face as he stood, swaying and awaiting her arrival.  I've always loved seeing the groom's first look but on this day I was particularly overjoyed with how the groom adored my little girl...his bride.  

Oh how my heart was still full of joy a week later, Sunday morning.  My beloved and I stood in worship at our church.  The music swelled loudly around us.  We joined in and sang of God's love, of God's provision and protection.  We sang of His holiness.  We sang of his love.  Neither of us sing really well but in this worship space we sing and sing loudly.  You see, the music is so loud that one can freely sing at full voice.  And I realized that Sunday that my spirit NEEDED to sing loudly.  I was still celebrating the beautiful wedding day of our daughter but I was also celebrating so much more.  I celebrated His very aliveness in the world and in me.  I cried out in song before Him.  Maybe that's why the songs are so loud in nondenominational churches....so that we can shout out, sing out our great love to the Creator of our souls and of our lives.  My wonderful protestant upbringing was a beautiful beginning to my faith journey and I will forever be thankful for how the Lord met me in those years.  But the singing in my old home church was quiet, it was a place where I didn't sing too loudly for fear that I would be heard and on the wrong key!!  So Sunday worship was quiet singing. Everyone sang but not so that your neighbor could hear.  And yes, it was and is beautiful worship.

But I was reminded on Sunday morning that , "even the rocks will cry out".  Yes, the rocks will not whisper out His name they will cry out His name.  His glorious name.  Play the music loudly so that I, my own little soul, can scream out His name in song because that is the ultimate desire of my whole being.  I believe we all crave that type of experience as He made us that way.  He made us to be ultimately fulfilled by only Him.  So yes, I will cry out.  And my tears flow and my heart swells for it has found its true home.

The groom told me last Sunday, that as his bride walked down the aisle toward him all he could think about was that the beauty he saw in his bride was the SAME beauty Jesus sees in him... the same beauty Jesus sees in me, the same beauty Jesus sees in you.

How can we NOT cry out?
"When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” 
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” " Luke 19:38-40

26 March, 2017

Our Father...4th Sunday in Lent

Cross posted from Fortyfaithful.blogspot.com

There have been times in my life when words failed me.  The day my children were born - I simply had no words.  The day we took our son to rehab - I simply had no words.  The morning my mother died (who celebrates her birthday in heaven tomorrow!) - I simply had no words.  The day my son celebrated five years in recovery - I simply had no words.  Last weekend, as my daughter wed the man of her dreams - I simply had no words.  Please don't misunderstand me as I had plenty of thoughts swirling around inside me in all these instances.  I had memories, I had unabounding love, I had despair, I had deep, deep pain, I had joy, I had hope.  But I had no words.  They were simply stuck somewhere inside me.
What I've described above is one very, simple life of a human with everyday joy, stress and strain. But the men and women living and working around Jesus, were they any different from me and you?  Yes, I believe they were unique in that they completely gave us their lives and work to literally follow Jesus everywhere he traveled.  And certainly their spirituality is not in question.  But neither is their 'human-ness'.  They struggled like us.  I just know in my heart that their words got stuck inside of their heads!  Then came...Jesus.  He was so different.  He was so alive.  He was so loving and forgiving and accepting.  And he prayed...like... everywhere!  Not just in the church or at mealtime or at bedtime but always, it seems.
Matthew Henry, states this in his commentary, "Christ pray[ed] often...: when he was baptized, he was praying; he withdrew into the wilderness, and prayed; he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer; he was alone praying."  His disciples saw Him praying.  And I believe we can assume that the method and frequency of Jesus' prayer life was quite different than that of his followers.  Something or everything struck them as different for they asked him..."Lord, teach us to pray". Luke 11:1
I, too say these words today...Lord, teach me to pray.  There are times that I don't know how to express the thoughts, feelings, concerns, and worry that fill my days.  
And what was Jesus' answer?  Look closely at the reading from Matthew, just before the Lord's Prayer, as we call it, Jesus gives us beautiful instruction.  He says, 'But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen...And don't babble by using a lot of words....for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This, then is how you should pray:  Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Matt. 6:6-9)
I'll be honest with some of my thoughts.  Perhaps I want to pray the right way and that blocks my real communication with God.  Perhaps those Sunday morning times of prayer in the church service leave me hollow.  Perhaps prayer is not about using any words.  Perhaps prayer is first, getting alone with God...just alone with no time schedule and no agenda.  In our effort to pray the right way we've missed the first step in Jesus' instruction....go into your room, close the door...and pray.  

Occasionally, I attend a noon communion service...where I am a visitor and know almost no one attending.  Oftentimes, the very best part of this small service is arriving early and sitting in the silence of the beautiful chapel.  No words do I speak, no action do I take.  I am simply there...present, needing connection, waiting, breathing...and most every time tears come for He has met me.  It's the alone time, the silence, the 'going away' where I find Him.
What happens when you go into your private place to think, or contemplate or cry or scream?  What happens when your words are stuck inside of you?  As we go into our rooms of prayer today, take time to be quiet.  That's right...just be...just sit.  Let your spirit free by using no words for just a few minutes.  Then pray the prayer Jesus taught us... slowly...in phrases...thinking about what the words mean to you...
Our Father... 
He is your Father, He is my Father, He is the Father of the world and He hears and He loves and He answers.  He is Father to those I don't like too much and He is Father to those who don't even know it.  My Father, I come to you today...
In Heaven... 
I am here in my little world.  And You are in your Eternal world.  You are Infinite and I am finite.  I praise you for the hope of eternal life and that You live and reign in heaven today and you live in me today.
Your Kingdom come... 
I hope in your Glory and in your Power and in the world to come.  I trust in You and that you will come in Your time. 
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven... 
It is Your will that I desire for my will is ignorant, self-serving and naive.  Your will is perfect for the world and for me.  I choose Your will today.

Time with no words, words for every part of life, time with no words...that's my prayer outline.  Will you join me today on this part of the Lent journey?  Will you take time and find your closet and stop the babble and just BE with OUR FATHER?

11 March, 2017

A Process - 2nd Sunday in Lent

Cross posted from my Lent Blog site... Fortyfaithful.blogspot.com

It was summer and our son, Nick who was 9, had just returned from a two-week camp in
Texas.  It was his dad's job to clean out the trunk that held all the clothes, gear, uneaten food, ants and nastiness only a little boy can bring home from a camp experience!  The process was moving along fairly well as Ray dug through the trunk when he came to a layer of clothes that seemed to have never been worn.  They lay there in perfect foldedness (a new Hayes word).  As he removed them, he came to other basic items one of which was the soap dish. (Now, these were the days before the creation of body wash.... one simply used bar soap).  Ray took out the soap dish and opened it.... there lay a perfectly, NEVER used beautiful bar of soap emblazoned with the word, D-O-V-E!  This precious boy of ours had been away for two weeks yet his one bar of soap had never been touched! When questioned, Nick told Ray that he had been swimming every day!

Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me Psalm 51:10

Scott led us to this verse last week and I've been pondering it ever since.  To 'create' takes time and takes a subject willing to be molded, changed, remolded, tweaked by the creator.
My son's intention was for a clean body but he took a shortcut.  When I read this prayer from David as he poured out his heart to God, it resonates with me.  It speaks to my soul and I too want a clean heart to be created inside me....
But like my son, I'm afraid I often make a different choice.
Was Nick not aware that he needed soap?
Was he too busy?
Was bathing just a low priority?
Was he anticipating that the process would be too slow?

Can we draw parallels from this childhood story? Like my son, perhaps I need a new definition of clean!  For I've tried and tried to become clean in my spirit.  I've said the words, I've prayed the prayers, I've earnestly desired this cleansing yet I still feel stuck in the words.  So, I read further in the Psalm and noticed that David continues his writing as if he senses that this clean heart deal is a process.

Verse 12, reads Grant me a willing spirit to sustain me... 
Verse 17, the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart...
(just a heart with the correct priority, i.e. God on the throne on my life instead of the bossy, needy me that usually rules my life).

Could these two verses be the HOW of a letting God create in me and in you a clean heart?  
By letting Him do the cleaning in His on time and in His perfect manner...
By being willing to give my own needs and selfishness to Him every day...

Is this second week of Lent such a time in my life?  We're busy people.  We go and we go and yet we all are still seeking something more.

This creating of a clean heart is a process inside each of us.  Am I ready to let Him do His work inside me?  Am I willing?
Or do I think I just don't need the cleansing?
Am I too busy?
Is such spiritual work a low priority in my life?
Is it taking too long?

Create and keep creating a clean heart in me, Oh God.

01 March, 2017

Lent 2017: "Lord, Teach us to pray"

Cross posted from:  Fortyfaithful.blogspot.com

One day, Jesus was praying in a certain place.  When he finished, one of his disciples said, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples." (Luke 11:1, NIV)

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.  For the next forty days, we are called to "reflect," to "inspect," and ultimately to "resurrect" on Easter Sunday.

While some observe this season by ceasing to do something as a representation of "sacrifice," Lent is often taken as an opportunity to adopt a new practice, or renew an old one.  For the next several weeks, we have chosen to consider the practice of prayer.

We will share our questions about prayer, our "successes and failures" in prayer, and what we have come to understand about prayer up to this point in our lives.

What we won't be able to share is "all the answers," because we definitely don't have them!  We are just travelers on a journey who are willing to share, "just as we are!"

Will you join us for these 40 Faithful Days?  There will be a new posting each Sunday, first from Scott on March 5, then from Kathy on March 12...and we will continue our alternating pattern all the way through the Lenten season.

We will use prayers found in scripture as a structure for our reflection and writing, including...

...Create in me a clean heart, O God...
...Our Father in heaven, holy is your name...
...Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses...
...O Lord, why have you forsaken me?...

We hope you will join us and invite others to do the same!

In Christ,

Kathy and Scott

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