The Man of Excuses

In the dream last night, I saw the disabled man in John 5 sitting by the pool-the place where he had lain for 38 years (an invalid, some translations say). When Jesus saw him there, he asked if he “wanted to be well.” (What a question! Only Jesus can get away with that.) Of course he wanted to be well, didn’t he? Wouldn’t we? But the man explained to Jesus that “other people” had someone to put them in the water so they could be healed. That meant “other people” got help and he didn’t. Other people had opportunities but he was stuck, paralyzed in his circumstances.

I thought, at first, that this dream was about a woman I’d talked to recently who so SO angry….angry because, like this man, other people got all the opportunities, other people kept her from getting the job she wanted, other people took all her opportunities. They made her dreams invalid. All she saw was what she didn’t have and thought she could do, and it was all because of those other people.

God is so loving and kind (and firm). He gently pointed out the beam in my eye while I was focusing on the speck in those of my friend. When I awoke, I immediately knew the dream wasn’t about my angry friend – it was about me.

God had graciously reminded me of the healing and deliverance He had brought to my life in the last year and the many victories His presence (and the time and prayers of patient people) had brought. But even though He broke the chains of my past, I have to make sure not to put them back on. I have to keep making the choice to live the change.

God gave me an opportunity, spiritually, to get up and walk. He said my live is not in valid (I am not a spiritual invalid!). I need to keep choosing to walk, even if sometimes it takes me to places I’m not familiar with and gives me opportunities to do things I’m not comfortable with. I was reminded I am only an invalid if I accept that my life is invalid and let the enemy rob me of the ability to speak of the good things God has done.

Invalid and invalid are spelled alike, but you’re not an invalid until you think your life is invalid.

“…a man is worth far more than a sheep” (reposted from 2008)

Several years ago I had the privilege of hearing a missionary from Palestine preach on Matt. 12:9-13, the story of Jesus getting in trouble with the usual religious hierarchy for healing a man on the Sabbath, again.  Valuing people more than prevailing power structures, religious or nationalistic systems, or political correctness, again…. 

The quote above is from Matthew 12:12, spoken by Jesus (NEB). The speaker used this Scripture to share what it is like to live and work in Palestine where each side of the conflict considers the other “worse than animals.”  He speaks as someone living the gospel he preaches.  He and his family live with the people as they suffer under military dictatorship, in a place where bullets used by either side do not distinguish between the religious or political affiliation of those they kill or injure.  I’ve transcribed some of it below, in case someone wants some pretty powerful words to consider, and so I don’t forget his message of hope:

           “How do we, as believers, respond to these places of brutality in the world?  What is the first word of the gospel that we bring into places like this?  Mt. 12:9-13  ” Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a withered hand was there.  Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”  He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?  How much more valuable is a man than a sheep!  Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”  So he stretched it out and was completely restored, just as sound as the other.  But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.”  If we look beyond the issues of Sabbath and healing, and look a little deeper, we will find how the church can respond to brutality.

         

           Jesus asked a rhetorical question….”Which man, if his animal fell into a hole, wouldn’t lift it out on the Sabbath?”.  They all would have treated their animal better than they were willing to treat this man.  In other words, Christ was confronting them with the reality that they were lowering this man to a status of less than an animal. 

           What is it that causes us supposedly sane people to treat other people as less than animals?  I believe we have a suggestion here in these verses.  The Sabbath had been created by God as a blessing, but over time it had become something other than what God intended it to be in Jewish 1st century piety.  It had become a form that had been changed and molded by human traditions, a human construction.  The end result was that they were treating this man as worse than an animal. 

          I would suggest that one thing that causes us to treat our neighbors as animals are human systems, human constructions that have an absolute sense of self-righteousness, the goal of which is to serve their own ends, and anything that gets in their way will be destroyed.  Such human systems can be philosophies, theologies, economic systems or political systems.  But I would suggest that one of the most intoxicating and dangerous is nationalism; those feelings and attitudes that surround us when we think about our nation and the system of our nation.  When the church becomes entwined in a virulent nationalism, or any other human system, it can become complicit with destruction and death. 

         

          We only have to go back as far as World War II and we think of the church in Germany, the birthplace of Protestantism.  Nazism rose on the wellspring of nationalist fervor, and the love for the fatherland and a return to the glory of the fatherland after the destruction of World War I.  Where was the church when Nazism rose to prominence and control?  Sadly, 98% of the church, the vast majority of the church, just became sucked into those nationalistic sentiments and actually became part of the Nazi regime.  There was only a small group of protesting Christians who were willing to step back and say, “There is something evil taking place here.” We are called to be something different.  Our allegiance is to Christ and his kingdom above our allegiance to any other system or philosophy or nationalism.  Dietrich Bonheoffer was the leader of that movement and spoke out, and formed an underground church and Bible college.  He spoke out but most people didn’t.  The remainder of the church became complicit with the destruction of the Jewish people…a terrible tragedy.  Sadly, if we look at our own nation, the church provided the theology that supported the philosophy called manifest destiny, which was a nationalistic philosophy which was the engine that drove the destruction of the Native American people.  The church became a complicit partner in the massacre of a weaker minority population.  This is a tragic chapter in the history of the American church.  When the church became part of a nationalistic system that wasn’t submitted to Christ, the end was destruction. 

          

          Speaking about our own country, one of the great gifts the founding fathers gave to us was the separation of church and state.  It’s not a very popular concept with some people nowadays; it’s become almost a dirty word.  It shouldn’t be.  It is necessary to protect the prophetic integrity of the church.  When the church becomes merged with state and the fusion of images takes place, the church becomes corrupted by the state and loses its prophetic ability to call the state to righteousness.  Indirectly the state becomes sanctified and all its wars become labeled as holy wars because “God is on our side” because the church has merged with the state.  So we should stand and be willing to stand separately.  Our patriotism should be submitted to the spirit of God and never become a disruptive nationalism. 

         

            Turning to the Middle East, let me say, for those who love the Palestinian people and who love the Palestinian cause and understand their concern and humilitation, there is a danger of becoming an uncritical part of their quest for nationalism that can make you unwittingly complicit in your spirit with terrorism.  For Palestinian Christians, it is your responsibility to stand back and to speak to the leaders of their people and say, “This is evil” and call for something else.  There are those who are doing that.  Similarly on the Israeli side, for those who love Israeli nationalism, whether theologically or politically or any which way, if you become so caught up in that fervor of Israeli nationalism, then you to may become complicit in the brutality of the Israeli government to the Palestinian people. They are called to something different, to speak to the leaders of their nation and call them to stop unnecessary and continued suppression of a weaker minority people. 

          

           Christ was a son of the Sabbath but he wasn’t willing to be just caught up in the blind popular affections of his day. He was willing to step out of the system and pick corn on the Sabbath, heal on the Sabbath, and stepped out of what was oppressive, and called attention to what was not of God in the human system that had been created.

          

          How do we respond to places where people are treated as less than an animal?  We respond by remaining steadfast in our prophetic responsibility as a church to speak to what is evil and call it evil and not get caught up in popular sentiment that would compromise that prophetic responsibility. 

         

           How much then is a man better than a sheep?  A stunning verse.  The very presence of that verse in Scripture is the most eloquent statement that humanity often cannot distinguish between human and animal.  What was Christ doing in saying this?  He was affirming this man’s humanity.  I used to think the foundational word of the gospel was that God loves people.  Having lived now in this context of the brutal dehumanization of the Palestinian people and considering the Word, I’ve come to realize there is an even more foundational word of the Gospel.  It’s that you are a person, you are not an animal. 

           

          Where does that gospel need to be preached?  First, it has to be preached in our hearts.  When we go to serve someone, we have to examine our hearts.  We have to look at how we view this person.  Ministry begins in changing our hearts and our attitudes and being able to see those we serve as no longer animals, but as people just like us with the same desires and hopes and failings and interests that we have.  After we have applied that word to our heart, then we look for how to apply it to those we are called to serve. 

        

             The most ennobling act of the human race was when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  When this happened, the value of the whole human race was lifted.  There was no doubt—God was in man.  That makes us important to him.  When we share people’s concerns, weeping when they weep, rejoicing when they rejoice, we are saying by our presence, “Your humanity is important.”  Whether it’s in Seattle or on the West Bank, those who no longer see themselves as humans through drugs, prostitution, abuse or oppression need someone to stand with them and affirm their humanity.  It can take weeks or months or years, but they need to be able to accept their life has having tremendous value.  It can be a long journey back to wholeness and hope. But there is hope….”

*****************

His words, his faith, and his example, remind me of my friends in Burma and Thailand and the faith and hope and example they live out, as they endeavor to reaffirm the humanity and the value of those living there under military dictatorship there.     www.freeburmarangers.org

New Year’s Reflection

New Year’s Reflection…

When we moved to our lovely little town four years ago, we started attending a small but loving church a block from our house. One of the first sermons I heard Pastor Mac preach was one I still have not forgotten…

He has a beautiful view of the mountains from their house…stunning, really. And, as a good photographer, he had taken pictures of the mountains in various weather and times of day and used them as a sermon illustration about the unchanging faithfulness of God (or at least that’s how my heart remembers it).

On the shores of loneliness, in the fog of depression, God’s loving-kindness is unfailingly with us.

When the mountains crumble (and what we thought was stable is shaken), God’s loving-kindness is unfailing with us.
Psalm 121
1 I lift my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not allow your foot to slip;
your Protector will not slumber.
4 Indeed, the Protector of Israel
does not slumber or sleep.
5 The LORD protects you;
the LORD is a shelter right by your side.[a]
6 The sun will not strike you by day
or the moon by night.
7 The LORD will protect you from all harm;
he will protect your life.
8 The LORD will protect your coming and going
both now and forever.

(from the Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

and from Lamentations 3: 22-24 (CSB)

Because of the Lord’s faithful love
we do not perish,
for his mercies never end.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness!
24 I say, “The Lord is my portion,
therefore I will put my hope in him.”

So this year, once again, I will think about the mountains in Mac’s sermon, in all kinds of circumstances and weather, and hope to remember with the song writer, Great is your faithfulness, oh God, my Father.

From the Ashes

There is brokenness-frail humanness
In relationships entangled
By biting, angry bitter words
Screamed from a heart that’s wounded

But Your presence, Lord, brings clarity,
Dispels the fog of dark delusions
The oil of joy gently given
Poured out onto the hurting
Soothes the soul in mourning

And the heaviness is lifted
You give beauty for ashes,
But first we go through fire
As by Your hand our lives
Are delivered from the Liar.

Spirit of the living God,
So gratefully I praise you.
You do for us what only You can do-
You call us from the ashes
And make us new.

December 27, 2020

The Thing About Angels…

Yesterday, I got a call from an angel…

(it’s almost Christmas, a busy time for angels, I guess.)

She was about God’s business-visiting the sick,

the lonely, and the forgotten.

(I confess her active creativity put my lethargic heart to shame). 

Angels nowadays can use Facetime –

(Who knew!) I got the message too late this time,

But she said she would call again in two weeks –

Then we can visit a very old friend in a nursing home

And she will take the risks and connect us behind a glass wall

With this modern convenience God must have inspired.

But angels are infinitely resourceful! 

While there at the nursing home,

Reading Facebook encouragement to our mutual friend,

She called someone else we both love,

(Knowing this person was struggling in turbulent waters,

sometimes overwhelmed and isolated)

She gave her a Facetime opportunity

to love and encourage our friend and to see her beautiful kiddos. 

As I thanked the angel for all she had done,

She reminded me of a past we had shared…a time she was overwhelmed…

Of lessons learned- sometimes you give grace and sometimes you receive it

And how we comfort others with the same comfort we have received from the God who loves us.

So grateful for the infinite creativity of God and for this angel who absolutely sparkles with His grace.

(II Cor. 1:3-4)

The Absence of Your Presence

If it wasn’t for Your love,

I would have nowhere to go

There’d be no reason to get out of bed

Fight to open my eyes or try

If I didn’t know Your love

Life would be a living hell

The absence of Your presence – unspeakable!

Darkness too deep – incomprehensible!

If I didn’t know Your love

It would prove I’m already dead

Because You said You’d be with me always-

You love me-that’s what you said.

So I wait here in the darkness

Of this long night of the soul

Knowing only with Your Presence

Can my heart again be whole…

My hope may be bruised and broken

At times I feel so alone

But I’ve known Your love

It has carried me

And I know it will carry me home.

Dec 20, 2020

Thanksgiving Lament

(Ya, I know, that’s a contradiction, but…..)

Today, for many people, is hard.

Today, as you can tell, I am sad.

Today I am grateful for still being alive -five years past a nasty cancer diagnosis.  Grateful for a good doctor and a clinic trial that saved my life.

Today I am grateful for a husband who still loves me – even after 42 years.

Today (and every day!) I am grateful for children and grandchildren who like to hang out with us. 

I am grateful that there is a Creator who put the world in place -I don’t know how, but I don’t need to.  It is obviously too complex to have just happened.  

I am grateful I live where I have trails to wander, rivers and mountains to look at and gardens of hope to plant with flowers and beauty in my little part of the world.

I am grateful for a house to live in that is warm and dry and safe.

I am grateful for the possibility that elected officials may choose to act like servant leaders in the near future instead of shape-shifting, blame-throwing, self-obsessed infants.

I am grateful for the diversity of our country, and for the refugees, immigrants and Native Americans that make it so.

I am grateful that gratitude is an attitude that can become a habit that can make you buoyant even when the waves seem high and the storm looks overwhelming.

I am grateful for today.

A Lament for Our Time

We have made an idol out of our rights and forgotten our privileges and responsibilities.

We have made an idol out of our sufficiency and forgotten our need of You

We have assumed we know all knowledge that matters and

forgotten that respect for You is the beginning of wisdom.

We have neglected widows, orphans, strangers, the homeless, refugees, prisoners, those in poverty, the unemployed and disabled and communities of color. 

We have made whiteness “rightness” and congratulated ourselves on what we have done, not acknowledging it took Your help, Your strength and Your mercy to get this far.

(Your mercies are made new every morning – ours too quickly run out!)

We elected a “king” who mocked everyone else but felt he had never done wrong. 

Oh God, now, perhaps, our path has changed. 

We acknowledge that black lives matter.

We acknowledge that we belong to each other.

Some of us acknowledge that pro-life means pro everyone’s life.

We acknowledge that power is corrupted without humility

We acknowledge that America is not the only country with humans You love beyond measure.

God help us.

We are in need of Your mercy.

Help us to do justice, love mercy and learn to walk humbly, remembering we do not deserve Your mercy, but that we desperately need it anyway.

November 2020

(Reading “A Sacred Sorrow” – an experience guide to reaching out to God in the lost language lament, by Michael Card. This book goes through the life of Job, David, Jeremiah, and Jesus.)

Psalm of the Slug

Sitting around , heart on the ground

Feeling like kind of a slug

Wondering if life would have been better

If I had been born as a bug…

No choices to make-just chances to take

And runnning the risk of being a lunch

For something to munch

And not really having much say.

It’s not that much different-this being a human

It’s all just a matter of size.

So this human slug with the hope of a bug

Sure doesn’t feel very wise…..

The Wall

I stood alone behind
My self-made wall of fear and pride.
It kep the world locked out
(Me with my fears, locked up inside).
There were no doors or windows
In this fortress I had made
(I couldn’t take a chance
Someone would see my guilt and shame).

One day, you knocked upon my wall
And old me of a light–
The light of God’s acceptance
That could put my fears to flight.
You said if I surrendered,
Laying down my will, my pride,
That He would be my fortress–
(There’d be no more need to hide).

Carefully, with trembling hands,
I lifted off one brick.
Then I removed another
(Thought I wasn’t moving quick!).
A ray of light came shining
Through the window I had made–
As time went on, I found
I was a little less afraid.

I took more bricks down one by one
Until I built a door.
Then I ventured out
(A risk I couldn’t take before!).
Not only did I tip-toe out–
I let some people in.
They weren’t a threat–
They were a joy!
I found some special friends.

I built an altar from those bricks,
Offered up my fear and pride,
Then found to my amazement–
There was more room for peace inside!
Tearing down my fortress
Was the beginning of hope for me.
Now life is becoming better
Than I ever dreamed it could be

Psalm 61 for 7-year-olds

A Morning Psalm

Last night I dreamed about Psalm 61 as I prayed for a very special little person I know who is having a struggle with school in a Zoom-filled virtual school day. 

This morning I am reading the first few verses from “the Passion Translation”:

O God, hear my prayer. Listen to my heart’s cry.
For no matter where I am, even when I’m far from home,
I will cry out to you for a father’s help.
When I’m feeble and overwhelmed by life,
guide me into your glory, where I am safe and sheltered.
Lord, you are a paradise of protection to me.
You lift me high above the fray.
None of my foes can touch me
when I’m held firmly in your wrap-around presence!
Keep me in this glory.
Let me live continually under your splendor-shadow,
hiding my life in you forever.

Psalm 61 for a seven-year-old:

God, I am overwhelmed!

I need your help!

This is hard.

Everyone else gets done quicker.

I don’t want them to laugh

I need your help.

This is hard.

I need your help.

Let me know I am loved.

I need your help.

This is hard.

Lead me to the safe place

Let me know I am OK.

Grab the Rope!

(dreamed of walking through the jungle on a muggy, buggy, humid, damp, oppressive kind of day.  Stumbled into quicksand and quickly dug myself deeper.  Then I heard someone I could vaguely make out on the far shore telling me to “grab the rope”)

The noises of the jungle seem to echo in my ears

As I sink a little deeper in the quicksand of my fears

In the mire of self-destruction, the abyss of black despair

Feeling abandoned – like no one really cares.

I scream out to the silence, to the hot, unmoving air

“Won’t someone come and save me?  Is anybody there!?!?!?”

Thrashing, struggling, gasping I try to make a way

Needing deliverance and strength for today….

Hope almost gone – no will to go on.

A quiet voice whispers–

(It seems like a song):

“Grab the rope, weary pilgrim, strength is gone.

Grab the rope of surrender, it is strong.

It can save you from destruction if you let your struggle cease…

I’ve come to deliver you and give you My peace

But you must surrender – accept what I’ve planned.

Grab the rope, weary pilgrim.  Take My hand!”

1988

Letting Go (poem)

Letting go of what’s behind,
Embracing what’s ahead,
Going through the changes
As I feel I have been led.

Accepting possibilities
To learn and trust and grow.
Believing when I ask His will
He’ll give me grace to know.

Grasping for serenity
And fragile peace of mind
Praying for the power
To do what I may find.

I make now this commitment
(which I know won’t be the last
for it is but a stepping stone
along this winding path)
So now that I have given it
My all, my very best,
I have to LET IT GO
And trust in Him to do the rest.

August 28, 1988

Lazarus (poem)

In the Mending the Soul group I was in, the chapter we were on was on deadness – how abuse deadens your soul and how God wants to help you get out of that …. I was like – if I knew how to do this different, I would have done it by now!

Then, one night I dreamed of a coffin laying in the yard with a lid off as we tried to move on. Wondering who died. Had to make a decision what to do with this. Wanted to leave it but knew I couldn’t finish moving until I dealt with the body in the box.

3/14/2020
Lazarus, what was it like for you?
You’d been with the Master, knew what He could do….
Did you feel abandoned when He let you die
Instead of coming to save your life?
(Did you cry?)

Your sisters wept in anguish
They hated to see you go-
You were all friends with Jesus-
(Or at least you thought so….)
(Why was He so slow?

Your friends bound you with grave clothes
And wept at your tomb
Comforted your sisters
While you lay in darkness, alone

He came when you’d been dead four days-
(Martha said that you would smell)
He didn’t hold back –this was nothing new….
(He knows broken people so well).

He came and he wept
Told your friends, “Roll back the stone”
He called you out into His light.
Said, “Unbind him and let him go.”

How did you feel when you saw His face?
Did it matter how long it had been?
Or were you just grateful to out of the tomb
To be able to live again?

Reclaimed

I searched for buried treasure,
Looked for pearls far and wide
But came up empty handed
With longing deep inside

My eyes could see but not understand
My ears heard clamor and noise
My broken heart was distracted
By the world and all its toys

Until one day the Good Shepherd
Reclaimed this wandering lamb.
Now I am redeemed,
Bought back from destruction
Held safe in His loving hands.