Monday, December 30, 2013

I Have a New Internship

It's a New Year dawning.  That could be the name of a movie, or a great first line of a song.  It isn't.  It's just a fact.  In two days time, we turn the pages on another year.  I always get reflective this time of year - looking back, asking questions, formulating responses, and desiring to make the new year a better year.  2013 brought a lot of changes for me.  With a slight tweak in ministry positions, I sought the Lord as to what this new season of life meant.  As I began to dig into the first book of the New Testament, I sensed the Lord taking me back to the basics, a sort of personal one-to-one discipleship.  He challenged me to "practice righteousness" in a "Follow-Jesus" sort of way.  I've been reminded that following is easy in the sense that you just do what the one in front does; you just step in his foot-prints and let him lead.  I've also been given some specific instructions for growing deeper as I've followed.  These things became part of the "practice," the "training in righteousness."  That's when things started to get complicated.  I've found the instructions seem simple enough, but the actual doing, the actual following isn't as easy as it may appear.  Those things have stretched me, caused me to explore the motives of my heart, and I have not really liked what I've seen.  If you haven't been keeping up, here are some of the practices I've been working on exploring:
Generous giving
Fervent praying
Frequent forgiving
Regular fasting, &
Overcoming anxiety

Now, as I sit on the brink of 2014, I've once again picked up my Bible to where I left off, and began in Matthew10.  Jesus summons his disciples, blesses them with authority, and gives them some last-minute instructions. This is the beginning of their do-it-on-your-own-while-I'm-still-around phase of an internship in following.  This seems to be where he wants me in 2014.  I'm to go beyond the practice (but, believe me, I'm still practicing, because I don't have it down to perfection - thank goodness, he who began a work in me will do the perfecting!).  Now, I'm participating in an internship in discipleship.  This just happens to be personal training for his final instructions as Jesus leaves planet earth:  Go and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).

Before he pats me on the back and shoves me out the door (I've said it before, I much prefer FOLLOWING; I don't WANT to lead), he gives a few final instructions.  I'm listening carefully, because I don't want to do this wrong.  Here they are (you'll need to read Matthew 10 to fill in the blanks).
1)  Go to the church first...  You are to prepare them to be ready for the kingdom to come... Some of the things you'll need to address:  Healing (physical, emotional, spiritual), raising the dead (believe me, some churches need a little new life), cleansing (Jesus says the leper, but I'm reading into that sinner), and casting out evil spirits.

2) Continue giving generously, praying fervently, forgiving frequently, and fasting regularly…

3) Travel is required, so you'll need to live simply and pack lightly (I'm learning this one)…

4) No need to worry about what you'll say:  I'll speak through you (thank you, Jesus!)…

Now, I know what you may be thinking:  Aren't you already doing this…sort of?  I am.  Sort of.  I think the challenge for me is to step it up, to be more intentional, to be more specific.  Here's the verse that leapt off the page:

What I (Jesus) tell you (Peg) in the darkness (the experiences of life), speak into the light (share your story); and what you hear me whisper in your ear, proclaim on the housetops.  
Matthew 10:27

In other words, wherever I am, talk MY Jesus-story.  Allow others to see the hero of my life…when they do, maybe they'll be attracted to the hero.  Maybe they will want to be a Jesus-follower, too.  That's the point of my life. That's the reason of my existence.  That's how I best reflect his glory off the canvas of my life.  It's how you do, too.  In spite of the difficulties.  Maybe, because of the difficulties, the dark-moments, the hard times, and yes, even the times of joy when the Lord seems most present, we take advantage of sharing our Jesus-stories.  We show off our hero, the one who rode into our lives first in the belly of a humble girl, and found new life in a manger.  The one who took the very nature of a servant, setting aside his right to be God, so that we might have a way to victory.  That's the Jesus who changes our lives every day.  That's the one I love to talk about!  You?


Oh…PS.  Our internship comes with a warning (we need to be prepared).  EXPECT PERSECUTION.  With follower-ship status, we are awarded our own cross.  I think that's why Jesus closes out his instructions on what it looks like to be a true follower with these words:

Come - all who are heavy laden (weary and worn out) and you will find rest for your souls…

We will wear out in the following if we don't come often, and come consistently.  Only then, ONLY THEN, will the

Yoke be easy and the burden light.
Matthew 11:28-30

Monday, December 23, 2013

Joseph and I Share Similar Fears

Joseph's side of the Christmas story begins in Matthew 1:19 with these words:

And Joseph (Mary's) husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly.

I've thought a lot about Joseph over the last few weeks.  I've wondered about the kind of man he was; what he thought; how he felt.  Somehow it helps me to dive under the words that are written on a page and really get to the humanness of our Bible characters.  Sometimes the Christmas story becomes so familiar we don't truly KNOW it, if you know what I mean.  Sometimes, in its familiarity, the people become god-like, and rise off the pages of Scripture as beyond-human.  Not so.  As I've reflected on Joseph, he and I share some similarities.  

So, if we look just at the words above that introduce us to the man, we could easily get hung up on one word:  righteous.  Joseph was righteous.  Yet, Romans 3:23 tells us this:  

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Even Joseph.  The Bible can't contradict itself.  So, instead of thinking of Joseph as this morally pure, blameless individual, we have to recognize that he, like me, like you, was a sinner.  So, how do we put two, somewhat contradictory, passages together?  Here's my take…

Joseph had a heart-with-a-right-want (read that verse again…he didn't want to shame Mary; he desired to do the right thing).  Joseph sincerely wanted to do right.  So much so that he lived to be a good law-abider (just like most Jewish men of his day).  Joseph's compassionate heart (again, read into that verse above) wrestled with his right-doing.  He often asked these questions of himself:  What is the right thing to do?  What should I do that would best fulfill God's laws?  How can I live, therefore, and be who I am, and still be a good Jewish leader?  People noticed this about Joseph, and when they gave a description of his character, they called him righteous.  

When it came to Mary's (cough, cough) "condition," he struggled.  Compassion often can't stand alongside law.  Sometimes, they are like trying to mix together oil and water.  Joseph was being advised by the church leaders of his community.  According to LAW, Joseph had a right to condemn Mary to death by stoning (she'd, obviously, been unfaithful).  At the least, he had every right to divorce her in a shaming scandal and put her in her place.  Those would be the RIGHT options.  The LAW options.  As we now know, Joseph was a law-abider.  He wrestled, however, with those options.  In between the lines, we read of his love for Mary, his deep compassion for his wife.  He had to have wondered:  What if she was telling the truth?  Having observed her character over the years of their promised arrangement, he knew what kind of a humble woman she truly was.  Her story seemed to contradict her character.  All of a sudden, she was either a scandalous liar, a crazy woman, or there was truth to her story.  He had to have gone back in his mind to try and remember everything he knew about the Law and the Prophets regarding the coming Messiah.  Did the words of Isaiah start ringing in his mind as he wrestled?  A virgin shall give birth (Mary claimed to still be a virgin)…and shall bear a Son, God-with-us (yes, she claimed to be carrying God's child, a son).  

I'm thinking Joseph nearly went out of his mind trying to figure out what was RIGHT.  He wanted to please the Jewish leaders, who knew the law far better than he, but he didn't want to turn Mary into an outcast, either.  I ask the same kinds of questions Joseph did. But (!), when I'm trying to make a decision, I am so afraid of making the WRONG choice, I almost always let someone else make the choice for me.  That's where I think Joseph figured the best option was the secret-option. Do the quiet thing.  That option would fulfill the law and be as easy on Mary, as possible.  Yet, hanging over his head, weighing on him, was the ever present, "what if." He feared standing before God one day having made the wrong choice.  For the record, I sometimes do the same…  Bottom line, Joseph and I, both live in fear of not being righteous, not doing the right thing, and then having to stand before God to give an account.

Insert the angel during a restless night of sleep in the middle of a dream.  First thing the angel did was to assure Joseph about his fears.  To do so, he assured Joseph about the child.  Two names.  Two promises.  Two prophecies fulfilled.  Here's what Joseph heard:  Joseph, you can never do right on your own. You can never be good enough. You will always be a sinner and you need a Savior.  Good won't get you to heaven.  Law-abiding, no matter how hard you try, will never be enough.  This boy is your righteousness.  He is your Savior.  So, you will call him, Jesus.  Not only that, remember the words of the prophet, Isaiah, Jesus has to come to earth through a virgin. It's the only way that God-the-Son can come in flesh. It's part of the process of God-with-you always.  Not only will you be saved from sin to true righteousness, but you will have victory over future sin as God dwells in you. It has always been the case, Joseph, God-with-you eliminates all fears!  Remember other words of Isaiah:

Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely, I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My right hand (41:10)!

Those brief words were enough for Joseph.  Those brief words should be enough for me.  The promises of Christmas are wrapped in two names: Jesus Emmanuel.  My Savior With Me.  Hallelujah - what a Savior! He delivers us from ALL OUR FEARS!

Monday, December 16, 2013

I Dropped Baby Jesus

Last week, I was asked to speak at a women's Christmas event.  It was meant to be an outreach to women in the community who might come to celebrate the season in a lovely location, whereas they might not make it through the doors of church.  I've done this event before, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I always love sharing about Jesus.

HoWeVeR! This night, I struggled.  I shared everything I went to share.  My message was OK.  My take-away was clear.  The mechanics were just a mess.  I went with an object lesson.  It worked well at home.  I envisioned a podium.  I planned on a head-set or a lapel mic.  I figured my hands would be free.  The object lesson was the first part of the message.  Everything, from that moment on, hinged on the smoothness (sort of) and the transition of that example. There was no podium, not even a place for my Bible (I had to put everything on the floor and bend up and down getting my things).  The mic was a hand-held, and having only one hand available was a HUGE problem for this object lesson, which included unwrapping a package.  To say the object lesson did not work well is an understatement, during which I probably lost 90% of the audience.  The worst part of that whole moment came when I dropped baby Jesus (he was in the box I unwrapped).  Yep!  I dropped him.  I heard a few snickers in the audience (that helped bring back a few of the 90% lost), and I felt like someone had hit me in the chest with a 2 x 4. So, I bungled my way through the rest of the painful 20 minutes.  Again, I said everything I went to say.  We talked about the promises of Christmas.  We discussed how every promise of Christmas was wrapped up in the Names of Jesus.  One little baby with a multitude of names.  A baby so mysterious and majestic that one name could not, would not, do.  We looked at two names in particular.  Two names that calmed Joseph's fears and led him to take Mary as his wife, and to raise Jesus as his own.  We talked about how those two names, Jesus and Immanuel, were promises enough for me.  I had the privilege of sharing my story, which began at Christmas when a messenger from God (an angel?) explained my need of a Savior, and how that Savior would be God-with-me forever, if I just let him consume my heart, and gave him my all.  What a joyous moment of life-change for me! I became a Saul-turned-Paul, only no one gave me a new name.  Unquestionably and without doubt, that story (those promises) changed me FoReVeR.  HoWeVeR!  I had dropped Jesus.  I just couldn't get past that moment…and it colored the whole evening.

On Tuesday (following Friday night's mess), I laughingly (that was good therapy) told a couple of friends over lunch how I had dropped Jesus.  At that moment, the Lord gave me a new look at that Christmas message, an inspired look.  Don't we all drop Jesus?  Sometimes we drop him in the middle of the Christmas season (or before it actually begins).  Jesus gets dropped in the midst of preparations and shopping, crowds and present-wrapping, food-making and parties, decorations and hubbub, and hoopla!  Sometimes we actually manage to make it through the holiday season focusing on that babe, reflecting on his mission, and responding to it with heart-felt desire, then as soon as the nativity scenes and the decorations are boxed up for another year, we drop him.  Sometimes the Christ-child is totally left out of the "X"mas season, and the holiness of Christmas simply becomes "Happy Holidays"…  Yes, don't we all "drop Jesus," at one time or another…????????

That was what I really went to say to those ladies, but didn't quite get it out at that time in the middle of my embarrassment of an object-lesson-gone-awry.  I can say it now.  We all tend to drop Jesus (fortunately he didn't, and doesn't, break).  This Christmas, let's make it a point to pick him up and allow his birth and his purpose on earth to meaningfully impact us for all eternity…

P.S.  Secretly (or not so secretly) and sincerely, I want to be an angel like the one who came to me almost 40 Christmases ago.  (What a messenger! What a gift I was given!) Maybe I can be if I can hold onto Jesus without dropping him!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Jesus Didn't Follow the Rules (He Wasn't What Anyone Expected)...

As I’ve been reading the book of Matthew, I’ve been trying to keep in mind that this disciple is writing to the sons and daughters of Abraham.  He wants them to KNOW Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, the long awaited-anointed-ONE!  He quotes prophecy over and again, to show how Jesus fulfilled it.  He is lavish in presenting them/us with the miracles and healings Jesus performed.  Yet, I get the feeling that Jesus’ ways didn’t convince the Jewish people, longing for a Messiah.  He wasn’t what they EXPECTED!  Sometimes, yes, he was ALL they hoped for, other times, not so much!  Not at all. 

After I spent a few weeks thinking about what it means to follow Jesus, it just struck me as to why this was the case.  Remember the teaching of Jesus at Matthew’s house about the wineskins?  He was answering the questions of the religious leaders as to why he did things so differently…  Why did Jesus eat with sinners & tax-collectors?  Why didn’t he fast like the rest of them?  Jesus answer was that he wanted them to consider a whole new way of thinking… He was letting them know that with his coming, he would initiate a NEW Covenant relationship

So, I had to go back and look at Jesus’ teaching to that point in Matthew 9.  Jesus taught as one with authority, but Jesus teachings are quite paradoxical to typical thought of the day.  Go back and look at his first sermon on the hillside.  Start at Matthew chapter 5.  The first words out of Jesus’ mouth were words of blessing (here’s how you can be blessed).  Malachi was the last of the prophets; he gave the last of God’s spoken words before 400 years of silence ensued.  Look at his final word:  “And he (pointing to the forerunner of the Messiah) will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse (Mal 4:6, emphasis mine).”  The Old Testament ends with threats of a curse; but Jesus comes with words of blessing.  Consistently, we hear Jesus say these words, “You have heard…”  He then follows those words with a new thought, “…but I tell you…”  Jesus didn’t follow the rules.  As a result, he confused his Jewish brethren.  While it appeared as if he could be the Messiah, he was unlike anything they had hoped or expected. 

Not only were his teachings different, his actions were unexplainable.  He reaches out (& TOUCHES, heaven-forbid!) the untouchables and the unlovables.  He befriends tax-collectors and Roman soldiers.  He honors a Samaritan-dog, a woman, no less, with words of encouragement, a hope for tomorrow, and presents her with salvation.  He heals lepers, welcomes prostitutes, and casts out demons.  He talks about not judging others, then appears to judge those who are righteous, while welcoming the unrighteous.  He parties instead of fasting.  Jesus was confusing, because Jesus didn’t fit a safe, explainable package.  As a result, the sons of Abraham couldn’t seem to wrap their minds around the concept of him as their Messiah.

I wonder, then, what is the church’s view of Jesus?  Have we tried to make him safe?  Have we tried to create a version of Jesus that is explainable?  If so, in doing, have we not given the world an accurate picture of a God-of-mystery?  A God who will take a lifetime to understand and to know?  I’m afraid I might be guilty of wanting to make Jesus so desirable, I attempt to make him explainable.  Yet, the bottom line is that I don’t want an explainable, comprehendible, live-up-to-my-expectations Jesus.  I want a God who is approachable, yes!  I want a God who loves me, yes!  I want a God who cares and reaches out to touch and embrace and draw near, absolutely!  Yet, I want a God of mystery.  I want a Jesus who doesn’t fit any box of thought or expectation.  I want Jesus to be so big, he’s unexplainable, for if I can explain him - he ceases to be God.  If I minimize his mystery, I no longer need him.  Indeed, I NEED HIM too much for this to be the case.  May I always marvel at his mystery, and help others to do the same! I hope I never figure Jesus out...

What a great way to begin reflection as we move toward Christmas...

Monday, December 2, 2013

This Time it's the "Should's" That Caught Me

I am such a random thinker; it’s why I titled this blog “Just a Thought.”  I can’t really ever be trusted to stay in focus, since my ADHD brain simply skips all over the place.  So, this morning, what’s on my mind has nothing to do with where I've been headed as I walk through the book of Matthew.  It is still a part of being a follower.  It does incorporate an aspect of practicing righteousness; and, I do know we all need reminders like this one.

Last night was one of those nights…another one, just like last week.  Do you have them? Probably.  I still have them often, though not as often as in the past (this is progress).  My over-active brain used of most of the dark-hours mentally/verbally beating myself up.  The drill is typical for me…and another cause of anxious thinking:  “You shouldn’t have said…”   “You should have said…”  “You have such a bad attitude…”  “If only you were more…”  “What makes you think you can…”  “What a failure!”  “You are guilty of…”  “What a bad daughter, wife, mother, grandma, speaker, mentor…”  “You really are pretty useless…”  “What could I/should I/ do I need to do differently?”   I finally fell asleep in time to wake up again, and, when I got up, I physically felt beat-up, as well (that’s a result of getting older).  I hobbled to my typical morning spot, where I like to chat with Jesus, realizing I needed a mountain of this thing called GRACE – not just from Jesus, but to give as a gift to myself, as well.  Whether I felt like it, or not, there’s only one place to find it and that’s in the Word of Truth.  So, with coffee in hand, I opened my Bible, prepared to turn to Matthew, where I’ve been reading and listening verse by verse.

Instead, my Bible fell open to a favorite passage of Scripture.  Coincidence? I think not!  Zephaniah 3:17 is a favorite of many of us:
The Lord your God is in your midst; a victorious warrior.  He will exult over you with joy.  He will renew you (some translations read, “quiet you”) in His love.
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy (again, some translations read, “singing” instead of “shouts of joy”).

Oh, my!  Immediately, I felt, inside and out, the same way I felt the first time I stood under a cascading waterfall in Kenya following an arduous hike.  Amazingly refreshed and renewed.  One verse, a waterfall of promises!  Here’s what’s true:
*  God is here – ever present!  Where he is, there is GRACE, GRACE God’s GRACE – greater than all my sin; all my mistakes; all the thoughts of "I should be better-than-this," all my shame.  GRACE that will pardon and cleanse within…  Sufficient GRACE; because the ever-present ONE is sufficient. 

*  God is fighting for me, in spite of me.  Under the wing of God’s presence, He fights to protect and see me to the end: complete in Him (not perfect, just complete).  The good news is that because He is God, He’s always victorious.  What may look like a defeat is only a temporary loss, my victory is secured.

*  Not only is he present, and fighting for me, at the same moment, he is rejoicing over me.  What a picture – my God dancing and singing, shouting exuberantly, because He loves being with me.  He loves being in MY PRESENCE.  If that won’t renew a soul, nothing will!  I don’t get it; I don’t know why…but I refuse to question it…it’s truth.

This morning, I am preaching three things to myself (we all need to remember to preach often to ourselves - seriously!):
I have his presence.  I have his protection (victory).  I have his promises.  Add them together, these things result in: fullness of joy and a quiet heart of peace. Yes, they do!  I am so grateful.  

What would I do without his WORD?  Oh, how I need it every day!  Hallelujah!

Your words were found and I ate them,

And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart;

For I have been called by Your name,
Lord God of hosts.
Jeremiah 15:16