RECONCILIATION

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Matthew 5:23, 24

Walking with Jesus is not for sissies. Nor is it for narcissists. Jesus calls us to crucifixion and requires that we take his demands seriously. In this Matthew passage he asks us to immediately stop our worship of him if there’s an issue with someone else. We have to be the ones taking the initiative to make peace in a circumstance in which we possibly had no control. It really seems unfair.

I once heard a preacher say that God tasks the person who has the most faith with the responsibility of being the peacemaker. Simply put, God is the one who looks into our hearts and instantly recognizes whether or not Jesus is Lord there. He recalls how malleable we have been in his hands and how amenable we are to trusting his ways. And then he calls us to dealing with unfairness, with misinterpretation, and even with wrongs that we may have unknowingly provoked.

God looks in our hearts and knows if we are willing to obey without counting the cost in humiliation or misunderstanding. He knows that taking up the cross and dying to the flesh can only be done by one who walks with him and who knows how to access his measureless grace. And God requires that sort of sacrifice from the one who wants to grow in him.

My mom once told me of a quarrel that she’d had with my dad. Apparently, they were in the car going somewhere – she couldn’t recall where they were going or what the disagreement involved, but she remembered the tension. She said she was prompted to reach over and give my dad a mint, but she resisted. Again, the prompting came, and again she resisted. Finally, she took a gulp of grace and reached across the seat to offer the mint. The tension was broken; the atmosphere was changed. But she had to make the first move.

Father, help us to trust you to give us what we need in our daily relationships with those around us. Give us grace to be peacemakers even when we think we are without fault. Remind us that you are constantly reaching out to us to draw us to yourself, even when we least deserve it. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

LANAE

Give to everyone who asks you… Luke 6:30 (NIV)

Some of Jesus’ sayings are hard to understand; others are harder to do. Occasionally, I struggle with the latter, thinking that perhaps Jesus doesn’t really mean what he says…

I had just rolled my cart into the parking lot and was filling my trunk with plants when she approached.

“Ma’am, I need to get home to Corpus Christi,” she said.

I listened, wondering what that had to do with me.

“My husband and I had a fight, and I left him and the children. But I know I need to go back,” she elaborated. “Can you give me money for a bus ticket?”

Quickly, I processed what I was hearing. She says she made a mistake and needs to get home to her family to straighten things out. But what if she’s scamming me and wants the money for drugs or something else? But Jesus told us to reach out generously. BUT WHAT IF… I argued with myself in the milli-seconds as I stood listening.

“You need a bus ticket to get back to Corpus?” I repeated.

“Yes,” was the hopeful response.

After a mental struggle I found myself shifting into automatic, and a voice inside said, “You wait here, and I’ll go to the bus station and buy your ticket.” Caution had been thrown to the wind. If necessary, I would err on the side of foolish generosity. I closed the lid of the trunk and walked around to the driver’s door.

“Ma’am,” she stopped me. I turned to listen. “I’m lying to you. I just want a drink, and I don’t have any money.”

With that we began a short conversation about the help that was available to her. “I know someone who can work with you and who would walk with you through this,” I offered.

“I’m not ready,” she responded, letting me know the conversation was over.

“What’s your name? At least I can pray.”

She looked up sadly and gave me a sweet smile, “Lanae.” And then she left me.

Lord, do not let fear keep me from obeying your commandments. Remind me that YOU will keep me from harm while I follow you. And, Lord, heal Lanae. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

POLYANNA FOREVER

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NIV)

I got a fun gift for Christmas that put a huge smile on my face. Being known as Polyanna among some of my co-workers for my belief that good will be in or come of all things, I was given a book. It’s not a religious book, but I love the idea: Evidence the World is Basically Good (A Logbook for Optimists). I have exercised poetic license and used a Sharpie to revise the title, which now reads Evidence God is Always Good. And I am already recording my observations.

Our Ugandan friends love to exchange greetings, and a popular one in church goes like this:

Pastor: God is good.
Congregation: All the time.
Pastor: All the time.
Congregation: God is good.
Together: Because that is his nature.

That’s essentially what Paul is telling us in this reassuring verse. In other words, as we close this year, we can look back at mistakes, problems, or hardships of the past year (or years) and hand them over to God with anticipation for his redemption. In fact, those very concerns that could otherwise have finished us can become a spiritual investment for future growth. How will his Spirit work to transform me through this learning? We can embrace failure, even regard past personal sins as reminders of how much we need God’s keeping power and how insufficient we are without him. This is just another opportunity to actualize humility and his grace.

And throughout the coming year, we can trust God to work in our lives as we abide in him, serve him, and love him. Ahead of us lies glorious possibility as we move into the New Year with Christ.

Father, in your presence is fullness of joy, and there are pleasures forevermore at your right hand. Thank you that you have the power to transform circumstances and situations so that good does come from them. You can even change us for good through the circumstances. We look forward to what you will be doing in 2016. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

THANKSGIVING ALWAYS

…always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:20 (NIV)

On my morning walk, a man and his grandson who were doing yard work in the heavy mist spoke blessings to me and wished me a happy Thanksgiving. At the store, the lady behind the register smiled and did the same. And another stranger leaned out her car window to call out happy Thanksgiving. For the next few days we will all be thankful. Or not…

Earlier this week I wrote about being thankful for the people in our lives. And most of us are thankful for the things we enjoy. I wonder how thankful we would be if all that—the people, the things, the numberless blessings—were stripped from us just as has happened to so many in various places around our world today. Think about it.

Some will experience these holidays missing a loved one—I attended a memorial service for a 90-year-old friend yesterday and for a 6-month-old baby boy a few weeks ago. Some have lost jobs or experienced disappointments or severe changes in circumstances. It’s called life in an unredeemed world. Can we still be thankful in somber situations?

When everything is stripped away, there is still God. I heard an indigenous pastor who works with his people in a Syrian refugee camp saying that the enemy thought they had taken everything from them, but they were wrong. With a radiant face, he said, “We still have our joy.”

And we have our peace and assurance, and confidence, and hope, and security, love, and the faithfulness of one gave himself for us. Strip everything away, and we will always have HIM. And we can be thankful.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING.

Father, thank you for teaching us that our hope and our thanksgiving is in you, unchangeable, eternal, omnipotent, and always loving. Cause us to look beyond our circumstances, which are sometimes bleak, and to allow ourselves to bask in your love and your presence forever. In Jesus our Lord. AMEN.

GOD IS IN CONTROL

O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. II Chronicles 20:6 (KJV)

This week we have celebrated All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days. In light of that our Scripture reading for Sunday was about Jesus and Lazarus from John 11. The CliffsNotes version of the story goes like this.

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are dear friends, beloved of Jesus. He stops at their house from time to time for a visit and a meal. The narrative opens with Lazarus’ illness and his sisters’ message to Jesus to come quick. By the time the messenger reaches Jesus, Lazarus is probably already dead, and Jesus waits another two long days to go to his friends. He even tells his disciples that Lazarus is dead, and he is glad because this will be an opportunity for their faith to increase.

When Jesus arrives at the village of Bethany, Martha comes out to greet him with the admonition, “If you’d been here, Lazarus wouldn’t have died.” Then she adds a profound statement of faith. “But I know that God will do whatever you ask.” Jesus proclaims one of his I AM statements, saying, “I AM the resurrection and the life. If you believe in me, you will see the glory of God.” Martha reaffirms her faith.

Then Mary joins Jesus and Martha, and the entourage of grieving Jews follows her. Mary also tells Jesus that if he’d been there, Lazarus wouldn’t have died. Jesus doesn’t respond but asks instead where Lazarus is laid. At the grave site, Jesus cries because of the unbelief around him, because of his anger at death, because of the sadness of his friends who are responding as pagans rather than believers, and, perhaps, because he has to bring Lazarus back.

Practical Martha warns Jesus that Lazarus already stinks because he’s been dead four days. (Jews didn’t consider anyone officially dead until three days had passed.) Instead of silently joining the mourners, Jesus prays and then shouts, “Lazarus, come out.” (He had to say Lazarus’ name so that only he would be raised from the dead.) Lazarus came out of the tomb, and Jesus commanded that he be loosed from his grave clothes. What a sight that must have been.

John tells us at the end of the chapter that from that day, the priests and temple rulers sought to put Jesus to death…

Now look at these gems from this story:

• Jesus’ timing was perfect. Mary and Martha expected him to appear immediately, but his delay caused a greater manifestation of God’s glory.
• Mary and Martha and Lazarus wanted a healing—they got a resurrection.
• The delay was proof that Lazarus was really dead, and only divine intervention would save him. Indeed, the Son of God, the incarnated Jesus, the I AM, brought Lazarus to life.
• Jesus was angry at death, our last enemy, but knew that his divine commission would soon be accomplished, and that he would conquer death, hell, and the grave.
• The priests and Jewish rulers began planning from the day of Lazarus’ resurrection to put Jesus to death. Instead of taking him down, they played right into Jesus’ hands to fulfill God’s promise of salvation from the beginning of creation (Genesis 3).
• GOD IS ALWAYS IN CONTROL, and all things serve his purpose. He can always be fully trusted even when we don’t understand.

Dearest Father, we thank you that your Son Jesus is Lord of all and that nothing is outside your control. Remind us that you always answer our prayers according to your will, your way, and in your time. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

JUST ASK

…you do not have because you do not ask God. James 4:2 (NIV)

Coming back from my first trip to Uganda after three hard weeks on pock-marked dusty roads in a glorious, yet unfamiliar setting, I was exhausted. We reached at the airport only to be told that our flight would be delayed by about 15 hours because of mechanical problems. We again boarded our mutatu (van) for a return trip to the Namirembe Guest House in Kampala.

Upon arrival, the two guys on the team said they were going to the airlines office to see what sort of compensation they might offer for causing us to miss our connecting flights in London and Detroit. Since this was my first trip and being the newbie on the team, I naively asked if they would see if we could get bumped up to better seats for our 18-hour-plus flights. All five of my companions laughed as if I’d asked for a private jet to take us home. I was determined. “You have not for you ask not,” I reminded the team.

An hour later, the fellows returned, and I asked—expectantly—“Did we get bumped up?”
With barely disguised smirks they responded negatively but allowed that we would all be treated to lunch in a London hotel and our own day rooms. Of course, that was lovely but not what I’d requested.

It was gratifying to have familiar food in London and a hot shower with a nap before preparing to board our transatlantic flight. An airlines vehicle delivered us back to the airport, and we were courteously escorted to our point of departure. Since our connecting flights had all been scrambled, our team was seated in various places throughout the coach section. I sat down with one of my team members, buckled up, and prepared my nest for the next leg of the trip.

As is my custom, I turned on the monitor to watch the progress of the flight as we crossed the ocean – but nothing happened. My companion tried to work the monitor. And then the steward did his best to make the contraption work. “Just wait until we’re airborne,” he assured me, “and I’ll reboot this from our controls.”

However many miles later and after many buttons were pushed unsuccessfully, the steward asked if I minded if he relocated me. “Oh, but I have to bring my friend,” I replied. “Of course,” he said.

A short time later, he reported. “I’ve looked all over the economy seating and can’t find a vacant seat. Would you mind if I put you in business class?” he queried. “Of course, not,” I responded with a huge smile.

As we were being ushered down the aisle, I couldn’t resist reminding my friends in passing, “You have not for you ask not.” It’s a lesson I haven’t forgotten.

Lord, I wonder how many blessings, large and small, we miss because we’re afraid to ask? Help us to remember that you’re a good Father who loves to give good gifts to your undeserving children, and we honor you by asking. Thank you again. AMEN.

GO FORTH AND CONQUER

No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, declares the Lord. Isaiah 54:17 (KJV)
We were en route to the Alamo this past summer reviewing the events surrounding the fateful battle that is part of our Texas lore. Suddenly, my five-year-old granddaughter Caroline made a dramatic plea to her seven-year-old brother, “William, I don’t want you to go into the Army and be killed.” “Can’t you just be a doctor?” Caroline begged. “All right,” William consented, “I’ll be a Marine.”

That made me think of how we Christians mistake our calling. We forget that we are part of a mighty army whose battle is not against flesh and blood (people) but against powers and principalities, against spiritual wickedness in high places (supernatural powers) (Ephesians 6:12). And there’s no way we will escape the fight – even if we join the Marines. When we mistakenly identify people as the source of our difficulties, we overlook the real enemy that strategically uses and manipulates people to do his bidding.

But we’re not to be distressed or fearful. We have everything we need for the battle: a full set of armor (the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, truth for a belt, shoes of peace, a shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit – Ephesians 6:14-17), empowerment by the Spirit, more fighting with us than with our enemy (II Kings 6:16), and a promise of victory (II Corinthians 2:14). And, of course, we know what happens at the end of the Book.

The battle is the Lord’s (II Chronicles 20:15). Let us daily go out fully equipped to overcome whatever foe that threatens to destroy our peace, our joy, our relationships, or our confidence in him and his promises. We are mighty through Christ Jesus to pull down strongholds (II Corinthians 10:4) and anything that would defeat us. Let us go forth and conquer in his name.

Heavenly Father, strengthen me and my faith to defeat those small and large things that every day attempt to rob and harm me. Remind me that you have already won the battle. All I need to do is access your victory for your glory. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

LITTLE THINGS

Shew me a token for good…because thou, Lord, hast holpen me, and comforted me. Psalm 86:17 (KJV)

Ordinarily, I’m not someone who looks for “signs,” but when my husband told me to begin planning for my first transatlantic flight, I needed reassurance. Peter had traveled widely prior to our marriage, but I’d never flown so long over the water. I wasn’t exactly afraid, but I didn’t relish all those hours suspended over the ocean.

Our destination was Ireland, and I would have an opportunity to see firsthand the beauty of the Emerald Isle. I threw myself into preparations, hoping to ease or forget my apprehension. Still, I couldn’t get rid of that nagging anxiety.

Chastising myself for lack of trust, I recalled verses of Scripture that related to God’s protection. Nothing seemed to help. I was too embarrassed to admit to my family or friends that I, a Bible study teacher and mentor, was nervous about such a silly thing. Privately, I prayed about my misgivings and surrendered them to the Lord.

The night before we were to leave, a simple thing happened. I stepped into the shower before going to bed and was surprised by the most wonderful scent. Someone, I still don’t know who, had placed in the soap dish a bar of Irish Spring hand soap which literally permeated the atmosphere with hope, joy, and reassurance. I knew it would be a wonderful trip.

Nowadays I spend days and nights on planes going to our various mission ministries around the world, and I am always grateful for God’s patience in giving me such a little thing to assure me he was in control. He prepared me for what he had prepared for me.

Father, your kindness and mercy are beyond comprehension. You answer our prayers and reassure us in the most unexpected ways. Help us to be open to any way in which you choose to comfort and care for us. In Jesus’ Name. AMEN.

SOMETHING HIDDEN

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Philippians 3:12
“There’s no sense in going further — it’s the edge of cultivation,”
So they said, and I believed it — broke my land and sowed my crop —
Built my barns and strung my fences in the little border station
Tucked away below the foothills where the trails run out and stop.

Till a voice, as bad as Conscience, rang interminable changes
In one everlasting Whisper day and night repeated — so:
“Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges —
Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!”
Anybody might have found it — but His Whisper came to Me!

I have always been intrigued by Kipling’s poem that speaks to me of God’s wonders in the natural world and in the Spirit. There are so many hidden treasures of God’s Kingdom that are only discovered by abandoned and radical pursuit of him. And once that wanderlust is awakened in us we will not be satisfied with anything less.

Father, awaken us to boldly launch out in faith to see what you have for us beyond the known. Help us to move to higher heights in you so that we may glorify you in the journey. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

THAT THREE-LETTER WORD

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. II Corinthians 4:16 (NIV)

Sid is an amazing person. In her nineties, she toodles around in her car wherever her fancy takes her; learned to knit so she could be part of the church’s knitting/prayer ministry; and lunches with her friends once a week (the rule being meals can’t cost over $7.00). I met Sid by virtue of the lavender prayer shawl she made for me while I was recuperating from surgery.

“O-l-d” is a three-letter word that’s become a pejorative term. But old is not a matter of years or time. Sid is not old. My thirty-something friend was old. He was always the first one to leave any gathering because he was tired. Old is an attitude, not a birth-date.

The Psalmist said in chapter 92, verse 14 that some of these mature folks “will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green…” Yep. That’s Sid.

Father, you are eternal, and you are making us into the image of your timeless Son. We receive from you renewing day by day, and we thank you that through your empowerment we can mount up with wings as eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faint. AMEN.