Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Humble Yes

Who has ever received this call?

“Hey there! So, um…as you know, Vacation Bible School is coming up soon.  We are starting to form our team and when we were looking for someone to head up our craft area and after a lot of prayer you came to mind.  You are just so talented and full of great ideas that we thought you would be the perfect fit for this role.  You are great with the kids, so organized and you post such cute things on Facebook all the time.  You would be the perfect fit for the role.  I know that summer is busy, it is busy for everyone, but if you can pray about it and let me now by tomorrow night that would be awesome.  We really need to get the team formed because VBS will be here before we know it!  It is such a blessing to be involved, especially where the kids are concerned.”

The specifics are always varied, but, the framework is always the same.  Warm, overly excited greeting—the what---the puff up about how wonderful you are—the head it off at the pass about hectic schedules---why what they want you to do is important.  And for good measure, you are told that it was prayed over and you specifically came to mind and how much you will be blessed by the experience. 

In the early days of my sincere walk with Jesus this is how I processed or discerned a call like this……

“Wow! They think I will do a great job and if they prayed about it and God pointed me out then He must think I will do great too! Who can say no to God?!?! So I better say yes and do this.  I can make it work, after all, it seems God wants me to do it, He will pave the way!”

I was not wise enough in my journey at that point to sincerely pray about it myself.  Why should I have to when it has already been prayed over by more seasoned Christians than me, RIGHT!?!

Now that I am a little older and slightly wiser, I now hear the wise words of Admiral Ackbar…

“IT’S A TRAP!!!”

I am joking of course, but just to be clear, I am NOT saying that the prayers do not happen.  I am NOT saying that God does not lay names on the heart of a committee.  I am NOT saying that God will never use this as a means to call someone into ministry.  What I am saying, is that we have to be wise about the yes or no that we give in response.  Just because a godly person asks you to, does not mean that God wants you to.  THAT, is a HARD lesson to learn!

During the years that I gave a blind yes, a chain reaction was set in motion.  One yes turned into another yes and another yes and another yes.  Next thing I knew, I had 3 meetings some nights and I always had at least one big project in the works.  I was one of the 10% that was overly busy!

The situation is pretty common for the 10% of those working within any given congregation.  But, my circumstances a couple years ago became pretty extreme. The situation turned into a fast moving train that was about to fly off the rails as it was forced to come to an abrupt stop when the church I was a part of and loved so deeply was dying. 

As the church began a decline everyone kicked into fight of flight mode.  My heart had a sincere desire to do what was pleasing to God but it quickly and unknowingly at some moment, morphed into a personal crusade. I worked hard for so many years, serving on ministry teams and building relationships and I was not willing to let them go without a fight.   If I was indeed called by God to be a part of these ministries then I had to do all I could do to make sure that it did not fail.  In hindsight I know that, in that moment, I was not fighting for God, I was fighting against Him. What I was fighting for was the safe zone that I found confidence and comfort in.

It was heartbreaking in the aftermath. The dying institution dissolved and it was absorbed into another. I did not stick around for the transition.  It was too painful for me to witness because I had a deep sense of failure.  I felt that I disappointed God.  With a broken heart and a bruised soul I limped away.   

Licking my wounds I was begging God for a reset and a clear focus.  When I asked for this I do not really know what I expected.  All I know is that this turned into an 18 month journey of healing.  Until today I did not have the right words to summarize the big lesson I have learned over the last 18 months.  Today, God gave me the words as I read scripture.

In Mark 1: 29-39, Jesus went off to pray the morning after a marathon healing session.  His disciples came to find him to let him know that more people from the town were looking for him.  He did not go back to the town, he stayed on the path laid for him and he continued on and traveled and ministered and healed throughout all of Galilee. 

How does this all relate? 

When we are sincerely called by God for a purpose, God gives us authority in HIS name to fulfill that purpose.  And though God may give you authority in HIS name, it should be treated with reverence and NOT arrogance.  Here is a fun fact…in most circumstances, I have found that the arrogance is not something that is intentional.  It is a byproduct of self-reliance. “God’s got this” changes to “I can or I can’t do that.”  It is a very innocent transition.

I have found that our reason for a yes or no is usually the best means to determine how well we discerned our decision.  Our only “reward” should be the fact that we were blessed to be called BY GOD to do the work itself.  That alone should build a fire inside and excite you to wake up in the morning! If we do it expecting something in return or we don’t do it because we are getting nothing in return or we claim any ounce of ownership, i.e. self-reliance, then we are doing it for self and not for God. 

Side note: If you do find yourself saying yes, do yourself a favor and continue to pray and seek discernment over all decisions, big and small. The asking does not stop at the yes. This will keep you in balance with God’s will and in turn he will help you keep that Jesus train on its track!

Jesus, in Mark 1, could have chosen to bask in his fame and stay put and live a life of comfort.  He could have easily profited in some way off of all the healing.  But at this peak moment of his growing fame in Capernaum, which was a sizeable community, He knew that the mission was more important than the earthly reward.  Even knowing how it would end, Jesus knew that the mission laid out by The Father is what mattered.  He was humble and continued onward.

We should approach any calling with the same care and reverence.  We should remember that God calls us to do His work on His behalf.  He does not call us without a purpose in mind and what he calls us to do may not be easy.  But we who are called, need to be responsible enough to discern that purpose and know that without a doubt, this calling is of God and not of self…..even if it is something that you do not want to do or if someone puffs you up with their compliments, and assures that this was God’s idea!

We need to remember that GOD is in charge and go to HIM personally for permission before we say NO, and turn our back on God’s purpose OR before we say YES and falsely assume that he is granting us the authority to do any task/committee/program/bible study/prayer group/etc. in HIS name. 

As I end this I want to encourage you to let God remind you of who HE is.  Please read Isaiah 40:21-31. God declares HIS greatness and tells us we can be great if we walk with HIM.  He reminds us that we need to be humble in HIS presence and lean into HIM in order to do great things for HIM. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Markers and Aunt Hilda's Pagan Feast

Both of my girls have had a love affair with markers.  When my oldest was about 2 years old she found a Sharpie and thought that the back of the guest room door was in dire need of some color.  A wave of inspiration hit her and she created her very own masterpiece.  In her excitement to show it off, she came to find me.  My immediate anger was something that resonated strongly with her and she immediately threw herself down in a fit of tears.  My heart, of course, was softened by the display and she was not punished for this and she immediately relinquished her prized Sharpie, which she had tucked into bed for a nap…without its cap.  This was the last time that she marked with a sharpie on any unapproved surface.   But regardless, every time I think of it I cringe….and thanks to her sister I think about it often.

My youngest is 5 now.  She STILL has an instinct to take whatever pen she has in her hand and mindlessly mark on whatever surface is nearby.  I have found doodles on chairs, walls, tables, the toy box, doll houses and more.  After trying the showing grace and mercy technique, like I did with her sister, she continued to do this. Eventually she would receive a punishment, and even that did not help.  But here is the thing.  She is old enough to know better, but yet, she still does it.  She is has an instinct that makes her continue to do it. 

While my oldest, at 2 years old was wise enough to stop after the door incident, my youngest at 5 years old is not wise enough to not do this thing that she knows she is not supposed to do.  

I have found that Christians, much like my girls, all develop at a different pace.  Some, like my oldest, can simply use knowledge from a gentle correction to make a better choice the next time.  Then there are some like my youngest that still needs supervision, even though she knows, better because she is not yet wise enough to control her impulses. 

Within our world there are things that we find tempting.  Things that are stumbling blocks.  Things that we know we are not supposed to do but do anyway.  Things we become so wrapped up in that we, usually unknowingly, elevate above God.  These things are our modern idols.  And while there may not be temples in the sense of a place to sacrifice a bull, there are places devoted to these idols that we sacrifice our money, our time and even relationships.  The big kicker is that these modern idols are not the same for everyone, it is hard to distinguish what an idol is from one person to the next.

In 1 Corinthians: 8, Paul is answering the concerns of eating food sacrificed to idols.  This was a big deal within the 1st century church.  Since the Christian church was just emerging, and more gentiles were coming to the faith the early founders were noticing that some would fall back into the habits they grew up with within their pagan life.  

Usually they went to these parties and ate this food because it was part of their families traditions and the culture around them and not because they were lacking sincerity in their faith in Jesus.  They were simply walking a tight rope of trying to decide if they should go to Aunt Hilda’s house for the feast of her pagan God of choice and spend time with their family OR if they should stay home and avoid it all together, possibly aggravating Aunt Hilda and Uncle Joe, not to mention mom and dad.  It was a sticky wicket for these folks.

 Some would go to their family functions and partake of the offerings, they would not lose their faith because this did not tempt them to stray from Jesus.  However, there were some that were not steady enough in their faith to go into that environment and would turn away from Jesus.  What to do? Is there a simple answer? Well, yes and no.  The answer is simple, but putting it in action is hard.

There is a saying that you are judged by the company that you keep.  People do not care to know the details before they judge a situation.  And their assumptions are most likely NOT a judgement on you and your faithfulness.  It is most likely a self judgement from the onlooker that has this circumstance as a weakness.  It becomes a matter of that self judgement being projected onto you. 

“If I cannot partake of this without it hurting my walk with Christ then how can this person do it? This person must be a hypocrite!”

Or worse….

“This person is a strong Christian and they can partake of _____.  So I should be able to as well!” A dangerous thought.

In Paul’s context, the solution was pretty clear. 

“Food will not commend us to God.  We are not worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.  But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.  For if anyone sees you who have knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge, this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died.  Thus, sinning against your brother and wounding their conscience when it is week, you sin against Christ.  Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”  1 Corinthians 8: 8-13

In this circumstance, Paul encourages them to simply, not do it.  He encourages Christians to NOT go into the temples of the idols and consume the food.  How does this translate into our world today?

In the Post Modern world with so many addictions and self-made idols it is not always as simple as, do not go there.  After all, most of these idol are usually things that we created on our own.  They are things that we personally elevated above God, knowingly or unknowingly.  They do not usually have a physical temple with an altar.  When it is not always as simple as, “do not go there,” how do we avoid situations that maybe a stumbling block to our brothers and sisters in Christ and even ourselves?

Going back to my kids, I cannot tell my youngest to not use markers.  She is in preschool.  Markers are an important tool to her early education. But I could set up a boundary on how and when she uses the markers.  While the boundary stands for not one but both girls when they are together.  While my oldest doesn’t like the boundary, she understands why it is there and she only has to be within this boundary when her sister is involved.  Once her sister shows that her “knowing better” translates into making “acting better” the boundary will be lifted. 

The same approach could be used for us as we walk with our brothers and sister in Christ.  We need to be wise and compassionate in our relationships within the body.  We need to understand that within the body we are indeed our brother’s keeper and sometimes we have to abide by situational boundaries, not for the sake of our souls but for the sake of theirs.  

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Growing in the Christian Experience

Last week we took the girls for their yearly check-up. As usual they checked their height and weight.  They made sure that each limb flexed properly and they checked the spine.  If they were due, they would have offered to provide the girls with vaccinations to ward off some terrifying disease.

After they got all of the proper numbers from the exam they enter it into a computer and BAM! There is a chart that shows the growth curve.  For the girls it shows the time since birth.  Thankfully the girls are growing as they should be and are hitting all the benchmarks expected for their age.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could see growth this easily with our spiritual life?  A chart that tells us if we are doing it the right way?

What if I told you THERE WAS!!!!

Well not in a literal senses of a chart, but there is a way to see if we are growing and not living a stagnant life or indulging in a lukewarm faith.  And we should use it to make sure that we are checking in on the state of our soul. Just as it is our responsibility to make sure our kids are healthy, it is also our responsibility to make sure that our faith is healthy.   

Currently, I am working through The Wiersbe Bible Study series.  My current journey focuses on 2 Peter, 3 John, and Jude.  Wiersbe asks within this study, if we are Growing in Christian Experience.

He makes a point that:

“Where there is life, there must be growth.  The new birth is not the end, it is the beginning.”                   –Be Alert Pg. 23

So, how do we know if we are indeed growing in faith? 

2 Peter gives our Growing in Faith chart!!!! 

“Supplement your FAITH with VIRTUE, virtue with KNOWLEDGE, knowledge with SELF-CONTROL, self -control with STEADFASTNESS, steadfastness with GODLINESS, godliness with BROTHERLY AFFECTION, brotherly affection with LOVE!” 2 Peter 1:5-7

Now, I did call this a chart, not a list.  Why?  Just as the doctor has charts that show us the progression of our kids growth this will show us the progression of our faith. 

You supplement your faith with virtue, which is your behavior that shows your morality.

As you are working on your behavior you should become more knowledgeable, or spiritually aware.  This is achieved by the reading of scripture, prayer, worship and living in community with believers.

Once you know what to do and actually do it, you will then obtain self-control because you will find it easier to say no to things that are not good for your soul. 

From there you are then achieving steadfastness and you become more reliable and unwavering in your faith. 

Then you move into godliness, which means that you are truly devout.
From there you produce brotherly affection.  This is different than simply doing the right thing.  It is more than that.  Brotherly affection is doing something for someone else for no other reason than it is for God and of God.  It goes beyond the “Love Thy Neighbor” or “Do No Harm” mentality.  It is being there for others on behalf of God and not of self. 

And then we are left with the final piece, Love.  This is NOT love in the romantic sense.  It is not the drunken, “I Love You Man” or a love that can be expressed by the Facebook Love button or an emoji.  This Love is known as “Agape.”

Agape is by definition the purest form of Love itself.  This is a love that is from and for God.  It should be considered a verb.  It is an action word.  This is where our works should derive from, the fruit of lives growing in Christian Experience.

Peter goes on to say in verses 8-10

“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For whoever lacks these qualities is so near sighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.  Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”

Peter reminds us that we have to continue to genuinely grow in our Christian Experience.  If we fail to grow then we are useless and blind.  We are blind to the gift of salvation we received and we are blind to the needs in the world around us.

He then reminds us that we have to be diligent in our roles as disciples.  It should be well noted here that calling and election is not a term exclusively for the priest or missionary, this is a term used to describe ALL disciples.  And if you said yes to Jesus then you should be reminded by this that YOU ARE CALLED and YOU ARE A DISCIPLE and expected to actually do the work required of a disciple.

As I end this, I would like to challenge you with a bit of homework.  If you are a Methodist, you will be familiar with that question, “How is it with your soul?”  This falls along the lines of that and the passage above from 2 Peter.

Take some time over the next week and at the end of each day ask yourself the following questions, if you find that this helps you then please consider continuing the exercise. 

Did my behavior reflect my faith?  If no, did I repent and seek to reconcile the situation and ask for forgiveness?

Did I seek to expand my relationship with God today though an act of prayer, worship or reading scripture?

Did I say no to something today that was standing in the way of my relationship with God?  If not, why?  


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Tasty Tuesday! Instant Pot-White Bean Chicken Chili

Pressure cooking is not something that is new to me.  I used to use one frequently when I was in the Army.  It was always a fantastic way to get tender meat and get dinner finished in a pinch. 

The pressure cooker I was used to was the on the stove model that most people would run in fear from.  I grew up watching my dad with these models and learned all the safety that is required for these things.  Since I was very aware of the what NOT to do and how to respect this intense cooking process I was not fearful of the device. In recent years, I had not heard much along the lines of pressure cooking and had a hard time finding a decent and affordable cooker. 

Then enter the new wave of electric pressure cookers.

The price tag is a HEFTY one and is the biggest reason why I was apprehensive to get one.  I could not see how spending over a hundred dollars for a kitchen appliance was justifiable.  Once I found one on clearance at a local store for around sixty bucks I was willing to take the plunge. 

I immediately went to a lot of my old school pressure cooker go-to recipes—which are also on the stove, in the over or slow cooker go-to recipes.  Some of my firsts: Pot Roast, homemade chicken soup and beef stew. 

Whenever you are using a new device, pressure cooker or even a slow cooker, you can get a little overwhelmed.  My recommendation is to ALWAYS start off with a recipe that you make frequently, that is inexpensive, and that you have your own flavor profiles for.  Use YOUR recipe first and adjust the cooking time based on the devices manual.  This is the only way I have found that I can get comfortable with how a new contraption works. 

Now that I have spent some time with this device I can say that it is magical! I am very pleased with this investment and I would spend full price if I ever had to replace it.  Some time this year I will share some of my personal recipes for the Instant Pot.  But right now I am in phase 2 of Instant Pot ownership…..trying other recipes!

In the spirit of trying new recipes I am going to try something new and that is a recipe review each week here at The Wolfe Den!

This week I took on Instant Pot White Bean Chicken Chili from Once a Month Meals.

I went this route first because I was contemplating doing freezer meals for the Instant Pot.  Well, I do not think this is an ideal freezer meal option because the only thing that really can be frozen ahead of time is the chicken.  It does not seem practical to add these ingredients and freeze when they are in the pantry and shelf stable.  Just seems like a waste of freezer space. 

Other than that minor criticism I really liked this recipe! 

A few things missing from the recipe is the size of the diced chicken.  I did the standard one inch dice.  And it worked beautifully in this recipe.

I also did not have homemade stock on hand so I used my personal favorite, “Better than Bouillon.”  I followed the measurements on the jar for the 1 cup of stock or 8 ounces. 

Another thing I do is I use the kitchen scale and I do not use cups to measure out ingredients.  That translated well to this recipe.

I LOVE that the spices mentioned here are pantry staples.  I did not have to run out to purchase a special exotic spice.  That is always a plus for me when trying a new recipe. 

The 10 minutes pressure cook time worked well and I did a rapid release of pressure and it cooked perfectly. 

This is a recipe that will go into my usual rotation! It is fast, easy and if I am not mistaken it is 0 points on the Weight Watchers Freestyle program! 

Give it a shot and I know you will not be disappointed.

**I am NOT paid by Instant Pot or any other mentioned products or websites that I mention in this blog.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Claim Peace!

Sleep in heavenly peace.  Peace be with you.  Prince of peace.  Peace is a big part of what we celebrate during the Advent/Christmas season.

I have recently embarked in a personal journey in which I have started seeing a Christian counselor in the hopes that I can find peace in certain aspects of my life.  I find that I wrap myself up in anxiety, grief and angst over situations I have had no control over, situations that are long past that I cannot forgive myself for and my personal least favorite, deep scars from an unkind childhood. 

It is not just me.

This week I solicited prayer requests and in a nutshell almost every single one of them was a direct prayer for peace in different circumstances. Keep in mind that it is only Monday. 

Peace is one of those common place words in Christianity.  It is a fruit of the spirit.  It is a greeting.  It is among the greatest hits in most benedictions. It makes an appearance 429 times in scripture (King James Version). 

It is important. 

So how do we obtain it? 

Well, let us start by trying to understand what we are trying to obtain.
I have learned that in order to feel that I can pray effectively for something that seems as abstract as peace I have to visualize it.  Call it meditation if you want.  But I have to imagine what it looks like so I can understand it with my heart and then, and only then can I pray for it. 

Over the years I have heard multiple times about a story about an art contest that took place.  The contest was to depict a picture of peace.
Artists submitted entries that were so serene.  Pictures of landscapes that would bring a tear to your eye.  They captured so much detail of the clouds, the mountains and meadows during their peak moments of growth and beauty. 

The winner however, was as less than ideal picture of beauty.  The winning picture was of a bare and desolate mountain.  Storm clouds filled with anger and destruction loomed overhead.  But when you looked closely, you would find a solitary tree growing in the midst of this chaos.  When you looked even closer you could see a bird serenely resting on its nest and you presume it is keeping its babies warm. 

THIS has become the visualization I now use to focus my heart on peace. 

After I can visualize it, I begin to reflect on the scriptures that call us to peace. 

In a passage of scripture that is most familiar to me, John 14, Jesus gives us the gift of peace to CLAIM! We are to CLAIM PEACE! IT IS A GIFT FROM JESUS HIMSELF!

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let you hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27

Now we know what peace should look like.  We also know that peace is a gift from Christ for us to claim.  Now, how do we claim it?

There is another verse in scripture that was written by the Apostle Paul, to the Christians living in Rome.  But first let us talk about 1st century Rome, because it is relevant. Context is always relevant.

Rome had an amazing cornucopia of Christians.  It had a sizeable split between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.  Because of theological disputes they had a lot of infighting.  This caused emperor Claudius to kick them out of Rome.  When Nero took the throne when Claudius died they were permitted back in.  Somewhere in this history the great fire of Rome took place and was blamed on the Christians and they were all persecuted. 

These people had it coming from all sides!!!!  Internal and external.

While our circumstances, in the United States, do not look as bleak as it did for Christians in 1st century Rome.  We do deal with struggles that can come from both internal and external factors. 

We deal with—grief from a variety of losses, anxiety from the world that surrounds us, diseases that lack cures, unexpected circumstances, misunderstandings, betrayal, gossip, self-doubt, depression, the need to forgive, the desire to be forgiven, the seeking of reconciliation, the goodbye we did not get to say, the words we should have said but did not, job loss, broken marriages, car accidents, house fires, not having money for the bills, and the list goes on and on and on….. 

We usually are dealing with something or a combination of somethings.  The only thing we want in these moments is to claim that gift of peace.  We want to be that bird on the next in the midst of the storm.  We want that peace that comes from the Lord. How do we get there?

Paul tells us through Romans 15:13 that peace comes THROUGH the holy spirt.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Paul also tells us in Philippians how to ask for it.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by PRAYER and PETITION, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the PEACE OF GOD, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds IN CHRIST JESUS.” Philippians 4:6-7

We HAVE to ask God for peace in all circumstances.  We CANNOT claim the gift and we CANNOT live in peace if we do not first, seek it from God.  Paul also says that we have to do it with a thankful heart. 

It is hard to have a thankful heart when we go through so much and are filled to the brim with so much darkness.  But, when we go through the trials, we do have a lot to be thankful for.

Our bird, she lived in a desolate location.  But she had shelter of the tree and a nest to call home.  She found peace in the storm that was coming because she was secure in what God had provided her.  If she had lifted her concerns to God with this thankful heart then whom shall she fear/what shall she fear?  Her heart and mind will be guarded by the Prince of Peace himself!

As we get ready to light the candle of peace during our Advent season, I will be in prayer for those that are reading this that need to find peace.  My prayer will not be that peace is bestowed upon you.  My prayer will be that YOU WILL CLAIM the gift of peace that was already given to you from God, through HIS Son, Jesus.  

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Final Goodbye-A Legacy

When I was about 5 or 6 years old we moved to a new house.  The two houses were literally just a few blocks apart.  This was not the first time we had moved, but it was certainly the most memorable of all the moves because of the swing set. 

My dad had a dilemma.  And if you ever put up a swing set you know the dilemma I am speaking of…how do you move this thing and put it back up again as simply as possible?

I don’t know how long he contemplated a solution but he settled on the simplest one. 
Don’t disassemble it.

At this stage my father owned a pub and managed a club, so he knew that he had a resource! His bar flies! He rounded up four of them and promised them a pitcher of beer and a hot meal if they helped him move this swing set.

Imagine the face of those living along those few blocks as four bar flies were walking down the street together, each carrying one leg of this massive metal swing set. 

By the time they arrived at our new house they had a police escort because someone actually called the cops because they thought that these four guys were trying to steal the swing set in broad day light. 

Once it was delivered to its new home the four bar flies AND the police escort were invited into the house to sit down for a meal.  I am sure that left the new neighbors with a few head scratching questions. 

This story is one of many colorful moments of my life with my father.  Since it was just he and I, almost all of my experiences of childhood and young adulthood come complete with a dad story. This particular story always reminds me that the simple solutions are usually outside of the box solutions. A concept I probably would not have been able to understand if I had not seen it in action.  It is a big part of his legacy and a piece of him that I can pass onto my daughters.

John 14:1-9

“LET NOT YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED. Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my father’s house there are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you maybe also.  And you know the way to where I am going.  Thomas said to him. “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you had known me, you would have known my father also.  From now on you do know him and have seen him.”  Phillip said to him, “LORD, show us the father and it is enough for us.”  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Phillip?  Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.  How can you say, “Show us the Father?”

The ENTIRE chapter of John 14 is the only solid piece of scripture I remember growing up with.  My father used to say that his dad memorized it and he memorized it because he was taught that all you needed to know about Jesus came from this passage.  And before you inquire, No, I have not memorized it. 

I never really understood John 14….or any scripture for that matter.  Even though I had read it and believed in the existence of God I did not understand how to have a relationship with HIM.  They were simply words on a page.  I remember my dad trying to describe to me what faith was like and how you just know what God’s presence feels like.  But I never really felt IT or grasped what IT was.

I was about 18 when I finally started to understand. And it was by way of my friend Ben.  He and I bonded over Tarantino movies, stupid jokes and gas station cappuccinos.  One day we began speaking about faith and the subject of scripture came up and I confessed that I never really “got IT.” I believed in God and accepted Jesus but I never really “got IT” meaning I never really felt a connection.  In this conversation I brought up John 14 and he handed me a bible and we read it together, out loud.

Once we got to verse 9 it was like the heavens opened up and a light hit me.  It sounds very “touched by an angel” but there is no other way to describe that moment.  My a-ha moment was that statement from Jesus to Phillip.  It has now become a statement from Jesus to Carolyn:  “HAVE I BEEN WITH YOU SO LONG, AND STILL YOU DO NOT KNOW ME, CAROLYN?”

It was then, in that moment, that I say that I first was able to understand God’s grace—though I did not know it was called grace. In that instance, my ENTIRE life began to make more sense.  All of the bad times, all of the good.  It all began to make perfect sense!

God was THERE from the start! Undoubtedly!

Things were not perfect from that moment.  A lot of other stuff had happened and I staggered a lot.  But from that point on I finally began to understand what a relationship with Jesus was like and it was something I wanted.  I jokingly say that during this time I was playing Marco Polo with Jesus because I was still rather blind and had no clue what to do or where to go.  But, God would open my eyes.

My father received his cancer diagnosis in September 2001 and it was a terminal one.  He knew that he had just a few months to live.  I was young and his only family.  I had NO clue on how to deal with the situations that would arise.  How do you even prepare for this circumstance at 40 much less 23? 

The first time God stopped being abstract was when I made a stop to visit my dad before heading back to my base.  My dad had just been released from the hospital and he had a home nurse coming to help him with a drainage tube and was supposed to begin chemo treatments.  Things seemed okay, under the circumstances. 

When I went into visit my dad I found him crying and upset because of a complication with the drainage tube.  I felt powerless.  I had no idea what to do.  Then that old favorite “Just Ask God” came to me.  In the span of time that lasted about 5 seconds I had a sincere come to Jesus moment.  

And I had this actual thought:
“What is God seriously going to be able to do in this situation?”
Followed immediately by:
“Just shut up and ask him!”

So I prayed.  Honestly, I am unsure of what happened after that.  It was a blur and I came to at the hospital, with my father in the front seat looking just as stunned as I was. 

We were in the hospital and he had a horrible doctor.  Worst bedside manner and no hope of a solution in sight.  He was told to simply deal with it and go back home. 

Again the thought to pray came back to me again.  This time I did not question it.  I bowed my head and said a prayer and as soon as I said AMEN my father’s home nurse was coming into the ER.

In the moments following my first prayer I apparently left her a message telling her where we were going.  Here is the kicker…she could have just gone to the next stop on her list BUT she came to the hospital! She did not have to do that.

She looked at my dad’s drainage situation and spoke to a couple ER nurses and then she turned into the medical MacGyver. His solution was corrected and my father felt relief.

Then it happened.  She looked at my dad and asked,
“Can I pray with you?” And we prayed

Let’s go back to John 14

John 14: 25-27
“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

My father died in 2002.  His battle with cancer was short and brutal. In those final months and days he was concerned about things I was about to face and how I would deal with them.  He felt sadness because he would not be with me.  And not to lie, I was scared too.  The last day that I saw my dad, it was March 13, 2002. He was sitting on the edge of his bed and his gaze pierced me.  I knew and he knew that this was the last moment.

What do you say when you are standing right there on the edge of a final goodbye? 

In John 14, Jesus was saying his final goodbye to his disciples. 

Some people never get this moment while actually knowing it is the moment.  It is heavy when you know that this is it and the end is near. 

Thankfully, this journey up to this point had taught me a BIG lesson. 

“Pray first and ask questions later.”

And that is what I did. And once again, God answered.

I looked at my dad and told him, for the first time, with full confidence.  You know that confidence that ONLY comes from the Lord.  I told him, that I was going to be okay because God was with me and that it was now time for him to rest and finally meet Jesus.  I told him that I loved him and that I would see him again one day. 

He shed one single tear as his eyes went from a state of fear to a state of peace. 

In his final days his biggest concern wasn’t if he would die. 
We all die after all.

His final concern was where he was going and if he would see his daughter again. 

God answered that for both of us in that moment. If that isn’t Grace I don’t know what is!
In Jesus’ final moments and final words with his disciples He tried desperately to get them to understand who HE was.  He tried to leave them with hope.  He tried to leave them with that recap of all that was important about what he taught during their time together. He wanted to leave them confident that God was with them so they would continue on as His legacy.

I was blessed to have a final goodbye with my dad. 

Many of us are NOT blessed with knowing when we will take our final breath.  This means in a literal since, every moment could be our last.  That should prompt us to ask ourselves the question:

What legacy am I leaving behind?  

Sunday, November 12, 2017

We Three Kings

Before the written word stories were transferred by traditional storytelling, music and art.  Christmas has been and still is a focal point for all three of these elements.  Personally, in modern context I would say that these are the real gifts of our Christmas heritage.  Traditionally speaking, however, the three gifts of Christmas are gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The Christmas hymn, We Three Kings, was written by John Henry Hopkins Jr in 1857.  It was written as part of a Christmas pageant for his niece and nephew.  John Henry Hopkins Jr was the son of an Episcopal Bishop and followed in his father’s footsteps and had a long career in the church. 
Learning that this song was written for a children’s Christmas pageant helped me understand the flow.  Putting the story to music helps children memorize….at least in my experience.  However, the repetition of the chorus has made that the most memorable piece of this song and because of that so much has gotten lost. 

At least once each year I hear someone ask or make a joke about the three gifts and indicate that they do not know why they gave such “ridiculous” “useless” “non-sense” “weird” “bizarre” “odd” “funny sounding”….gifts.  The funny thing is if people stopped to actually listen to the song they would know and understand the meaning behind these gifts. 

If first want to point you to way of the scripture context and it does not come from the birth story.

Isaiah 6:1-6
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
    and his glory will be seen upon you.
3 And nations shall come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your rising.
4 Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
    they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from afar,
    and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.
5 Then you shall see and be radiant;
    your heart shall thrill and exult,[a]
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
    the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
6 A multitude of camels shall cover you,
    the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
    all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
    and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.

The word of the Lord was known beyond the nation of Israel.  The Magi arriving to visit the new born King illustrates this point.  There is a lot of intriguing finds regarding the history of these characters.  Who were they? Where are they from? How many were there?  You see we assume there were only 3 because that is how many gifts were presented.  No indication is ever made of how many actually arrived.

The best guess on where these individuals came from was Persia.  According to “Smith’s Bible Dictionary”

“These wise men from Persia were the most like the Jews, in religion, of all nations in the world. They believed in one God, they had no idols, they worshipped light as the best symbol of God.”

I am only assuming here but, it could be with the overly repetitive chorus of the tune that Hopkins may have subscribed to a similar theology as he wrote:

“O star of wonder, star of night, Star with royal beauty bright, Westward leading, still proceeding, Guide us to thy perfect light.”

If they were familiar with the words found in Isaiah then they would have known the ideal gifts to bring.  Well, 2 of them.

“Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain, GOLD I bring to crown Him AGAIN, KING FOREVER, ceasing never, OVER US ALL TO REIGN.”

By missing the verse and focusing on the chorus you can easily miss the entire purpose for gold.  It is the symbol of royalty.  The fact that other nations are bringing gold to honor this child when the people of Israel were not is astoundingly profound.  It is the start of showing that Jesus is not just here for the sake of Israel, but for the sake of saving the world.  The Magi that honored HIM with Gold was the first, outside of the initial birth story, to say, “Yes God, we accept and acknowledge this child as our King!”  They did this BEFORE the first miracle was performed by Jesus.  They did this solely on faith.  To me that is pretty astounding. 

“Frankincense to offer have I.  Incense owns a Deity nigh.  Prayer and praising all men raising, Worship Him, God on high.”

The definition of Frankincense is far from attractive.  It is a vegetable resin that is used for spiritual fumigation.  This was the phrase preferred by the Smith’s Bible Dictionary.  A simple google search on this topic lead me to “Got Questions” and interestingly this site gave me a better perspective of the importance of this gift.  Their answer is based out of The Case for Christmas by Lee Strobel.

Frankincense is a symbol of holiness and righteousness. The gift of frankincense to the Christ child was symbolic of His willingness to become a sacrifice, wholly giving Himself up, analogous to a burnt offering.

Until I read this I never tied in this gift with the willingness to become a sacrifice.  This was a rather intense realization and simply put my mind is blown by this connection.  Since I became a mom, I often think of Mary during Christmas and Easter. Thinking of her with this new nugget of knowledge and I am rather overwhelmed thinking of her in terms of being the mother of an young child who has willingly come to this earth knowing that their fate is to be sacrificed.  I cannot even begin to imagine. 

“Myrrh is mine: it’s bitter perfume breaths a life of gathering gloom.  Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb.”

As the case with songs with multiple verses the last one usually is sung or remembered the less often.  When it is sung it is usually at church and with it being the 3rd verse is subjected to the rampant watch checking of those wondering if they are going to miss kick off.  But, myrrh is the most somber of the three as it sings of the death of Jesus. 

It should be noted that Myrrh was NOT mentioned in Isaiah.  So why bring it?  I cannot find a straight answer on this.  Was there another prophecy out there that mentioned this third element?  This was such an intense gift to provide a young child as it essentially becomes the first earthly recognition of his death.  Why else would they have brought it? This is something to ponder about the next time you hear the song. 

Again, I am taken back to Mary.  At the very start of his life, her young son, is given a gift that is used on a corpse. Yet another reminder of what is to come for her baby boy.  I get overwhelmed by the thought of this.  It would be the compared today to a stranger showing up to your kids 3rd birthday party bringing a gift certificate to the local funeral home.  Very sobering thought during the food comas we endure during these days of holly jolly festivities.

We sing songs about “Peace on Earth and Goodwill toward Men” “Jingle Bells” and a whole slew of songs romanticizing snow and Santa.  We focus so much on the birth of the Christ child and the hope that it brings that we forget, at least until Easter, that this hope comes with a price, a heavy burden for such a small child and an unimaginable sacrifice for His parents.  “We Three Kings” does its part, in the abyss of bubble gum pop tunes, to remind us that Jesus was born for one purpose, to be a living sacrifice to save the world.  

The Humble Yes

Who has ever received this call? “Hey there! So, um…as you know, Vacation Bible School is coming up soon.  We are starting to form our ...