Friday, December 30, 2011

Marriage Survivor

for the MCC Mothers of Preschoolers meeting, April 19, 2012
I am not an expert on marriage. I am not the perfect wife or mother. I did not marry the perfect man. My only qualification is I have been married over 30 years to one man. I consider my marriage a good one and I look forward to the next season of our lives together with joy and peace. However, my situation is not the norm.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescence Psychiatry: "One out of every two marriages today ends in divorce and many divorcing families include children... While parents may be devastated or relieved by the divorce, children are invariably frightened and confused by the threat to their security."

I grew up watching fairy tales like Snow White and Cinderella, giving the impression that a blissful marriage can be the expectation of every woman. Instead I have found the reality of marriage to be more like the TV series Survivor. Survivor is a reality television show where contestants are isolated in the wilderness and compete for prizes. I loved the spoof on marriage that I saw in an email once. It started this way:
"The Next Survivor Series: Six married men will be dropped on an island with one car and 4 kids each for six weeks. Each kid will play two sports and either take music or dance lessons. There is no fast food. The men must shave their legs, wear make-up daily, which they will apply themselves while driving or making four lunches. They must clean up after their sick children at 3 am and then spend the remainder of the day tending to that child and waiting on them hand and foot until they are better. The kids vote them off the island based on performance. The last man wins ONLY IF he still has enough energy left to be intimate with his spouse at a moment's notice."

Honestly, I think it is better backwards, instead of playing a game called Survivor Marriage, it is better said that I am a Marriage Survivor. Like a Cancer Survivor, I have managed to survive difficulties and overcome the obstacles in marriage.

I think it is valuable to think of marriage in those terms. It is not a destination. It is not a pleasure cruise. Yes, there are many joys but often it is a difficult and dangerous trip, with pit-falls at many turns. The more we consider it in this way, the more we will be willing to do what is necessary to be a winner in marriage. Because those of us who are Marriage Survivors will tell you, it was worth all of what we have gone through.
So today we will focus on one central question: what does it take to not only survive in marriage, but to stay in love and achieve the rare intimacy that can only be developed as you grow old together?

There are three points I will be making:

  1. Tell him.
  2. Accept him.
  3. Love him.


During the first years of my married life, my husband Al was not available emotionally. He was not able to understand my feelings, share his own feelings, and relate to me on an emotional level. So it was my practice to share my deeper emotional issues with close girl friends. But as time went on, I found I was closer to my girl friends than I was with my own husband. It finally occurred to me that this had to stop. I started to share with him more and more, even if he didn't understand, even if he gave me no feed back, even if he ran away from the conversation. I refused to give up because I sensed how important it was to be emotionally intimate with Al.

And that is the point, typically women connect and become intimate through conversations, sharing the intimate details of our lives. If we do not do this with our husbands, we will never be truly intimate with them. Fortunately, through reading books on the subject, I discovered communication skills that helped Al listen to me. Let me share them with you.
  1. Men listen better when they are told the punch line, or the bottom line, first. Women love to listen to each other talk and hear their stories for their own sake, but men need to know why they are listening to the story, or they will struggle to pay attention. As with this talk, I started out with giving you my outline: Tell him, Accept him, Love him. This way of talking, giving the outline or topic first, gives men structure so they can better follow what we are saying and piece together the parts of the story. What we women think will "ruin the story" will actually help him to understand.
  2. Men listen better when we tell shorter stories. Especially when I first started sharing with Al more, I would tell him the abbreviated version. I left room in the conversation for dialog, allowing him to ask me questions, or to give me advice. I realized by giving advice, he was trying to help and showing his love for me.
  3. Men listen better when they are in the right mood. I found the worse time to talk to my husband was as soon as he came home from work. He was tired and distracted. Also, when he was in involved in a project, or watching TV, he would not be able to give me his full attention. But when I caught him in a good mood, at a time when he could listen, then he could be more patient and hear me out.
  4. Men listen better when we use a respectful tone. When I was critical or angry with Al, he would be turned off and conversations were non-productive. Also, I can have a tendency to talk in a belittling tone. I learned the hard way that no grown man can listen productively and compassionately when I am speaking with the kind of language and tone that I would use with a 5-year-old. And that is a problem with moms, as we spend the majority of our time with kids! It was a struggle to consider my attitude and my tone before I spoke, but when I managed to use this skill consistently, it worked much better for me.
Another thing I struggled with, was telling Al when I was hurt. Instead of talking to him about it, I would talk to myself, make excuses for him, tell myself the situation wasn't so bad, and that talking about it would not help anyway. As women, we can fall on two ends of the spectrum on this, either everything is a major catastrophe, or nothing is wrong. Either end is problematic. Sometimes it is better to overlook things and accept our husband's quirks as part of the package. We don't have to make a big deal out of everything. But I found I needed to share with Al much more than I did. As we talked about things together, I found that many times, after I told him how I felt and what I thought, even if things did not go my way, I felt better and more at peace.

In the early years of my marriage, I would often keep things inside until I exploded in anger. Anger made Al pull back, get defensive, and because he tends to be stubborn, stand his ground more strongly, even if I was right. Anger made me ugly and my concerns seem not sympathetic or compelling. Then I learned that anger was a secondary emotion, which means, another emotion was fueling my anger -- usually fear or hurt. I learned to reflect on my anger and determine what that primary emotion was, and then express the primary emotion in a way that was not threatening. In other words, I started to own my feelings, and instead of demanding change from Al from a place of anger, I would just put my feelings out there and ask for his help and compassion. The results were much better. Instead of polarizing the relationship, as anger can often do, we were both addressing the problem as a team. Anger is a powerful emotion and can make us feel powerful, which is why it is an attractive weapon to use. But any weapon can work against us in marriage because we tend to attack each other and not the problem. Instead of putting the problem between us, we need to put the problem in front of us, and this way we can work on it together.

So tell him -- share your heart and the details of your life to gain intimacy -- share your hurts with him to solve your problems together.


I probably watched too many Disney movies and I definitely was reading too many romance novels, because one of the first things I notices after I got married was my expectations were not being met.

This is what I wanted:

When I first got married, all was fine...

but then after a while things began to change...

and it felt like...

this was what I got:

There was a gap between what I thought was reasonable to expect in my marriage, and what I was actually experiencing. One huge problem was my husband's work hours. When we met, he was working nights, starting at 2 am and coming home in the morning. So 5 nights out of 7 I was sleeping alone. Was it too much to expect to sleep with my new husband?

Another huge issue was about the house we were living in. My husband owned a house when I met him at age 24, a huge accomplishment and asset, or so I thought. However, he bought it in partnership with his father and had just decorated it to his liking. When we got married, he was not open to redoing any part of the house so soon. And his younger brothers considered it as a family house and I never knew when they would be stopping by, sometimes not to visit, but to use the garage to repair their cars. Was it too much to expect to decorate my new home and to have some privacy with my new husband?

These two issues, and some others, created such distance between us that we eventually separated after only three years of marriage. I felt there was something wrong with my husband because I wasn't getting what I expected. Let me be perfectly clear: in retrospect, I do not blame my husband for the separation--it was me. I was not telling him what I needed and how important those issues were to me. And also, I had unrealistic expectations of what marriage would be like.

Here was the lesson I learned the hard way: There will always be a gap between what we expect and what we actually experience. And in that gap, we get to choose: Will we accept him or reject him?
I needed to tell Al how I felt, and eventually I did. And obviously we got back together. We did buy another house that we decorated together. But I found I couldn't win all the battles. Al still works nights, after 30 years, we still sleep together 2 nights out of 7. But I needed to be realistic too. Al had to work because we all like to eat. Most men have some difficult hours. I am thankful Al was always home for dinner. There are other men that miss dinner every night, or who have to travel for their jobs. And then, especially in current times, there are men who can't find work at all. My attitude improved when I began to be thankful for the good parts of Al's job, and that he had a job. As I began to focus on thankfulness, I had a lot more peace.

Then there are issues, some we are currently facing, where he is doing something that is wrong. He admits he is wrong, but keeps doing the same thing over and over. He is struggling with being patient with our twenty-something daughters who still live in our house. When he gets impatient and frustrated with them, he reacts in a way that is hurtful. We have talked about how he needs to be more careful with the fragile hearts of these young women, and he understands, asks forgiveness but does the same thing next time.

And in that gap, I get to choose: Will I forgive him and find peace? Or will I stay angry and become bitter? Will I continue to believe the best of him, that he really does want to change, and stay hopeful, or will I give up on him and expect the worse?

Here is the truth we need to accept: It is hard to change. Here is a great example: Who wants to lose 10 pounds? Who wanted to lose 10 pounds last month? Why didn't you? Because it is hard to change. We need to give our husbands a break. I found as I continue to forgive Al, as I continue to tell him -- gently and firmly -- about his shortcomings, especially those that hurt me and my daughters, as I continue to be patient but hopeful, Al does change. It is much slower than I want, but is does happen.

So what do we do with the problems in our marriage? Let's think of our problems as a pie. In my home, the problem pie looks something like this:

If Al could only straighten up, if he could work on his issues, our lives would be so much better! Sure I have issues, but they always looked so much smaller and less consequential compared to his!

Then I learned something that made all the difference in my marriage, but I had always missed it because it seemed so counter-intuitive. I learned when I focused on my slice of the pie, when I put aside his issues and worked on mine, he actually started to change. I found I could not MAKE him change. I can share my feelings, I can pray, but I can't make him. But I can change me.

Let me challenge you for a moment to think about your slice of the problem pie. Are there things your husband has been asking you to do, or areas he is asking you to change and you keep blowing him off? Maybe you think it is smaller and less consequential compared to areas where you want him to change. Or maybe, you want him to go first. Maybe you think you do enough in this marriage and it is definitely his turn.
That may be true, but remember, we want to be marriage survivors. It is not about fairness. It is about survival, for our sakes, for the sakes of our children. Work on your issues, even if they are small. It is important to sweat the small stuff because the small stuff can become the big stuff!

One pet peeve of my husband was late dinners. He really wanted to eat at 5 pm. He kept repeating it. And so, to the best of my ability, I did this even though it was not always easy because I worked when my daughters were in school and had to drive them to their after-school activities, so I often came home at 4:30. But I learned to use my crock pot, made sure I planned the meal the night before, and I creatively used left-overs. It was just one way of saying I love you to my husband, and I avoided a lot of fights and hard feelings.

What issue does your husband keep bringing up? Can you work on that for the good of your marriage?
Another important choice for me was what to do in those gaps of time, when my husband was not available for me. As my children grew, and I had more time for myself, and picked things to do to fill my time. I found that even things that seem benign could be harmful to my marriage. I gave up the romance novels and steamy TV dramas because they fueled my unrealistic expectations of what married life was supposed to be. I stopped spending time looking through store circulars and shopping out of boredom because I found myself buying stuff we didn't need, didn't even have space for, and could not afford.

Instead, I purposefully filled time with volunteering at my children's elementary school so I could get to know their friends and teachers. I volunteered at church and attended study groups where I met women of faith and good character, who would be an encouragement and a good example for me in mothering my daughters. When my daughters got older, I limited the outside activities they had to curtail the stress on them and on me. These choices helped my mothering and my marriage.

How about you? Where are you spending time? Are these things breathing life into your marriage or just making your life more complicated?

Here is the important point: often I have felt victimized by the behavior of other people, especially my husband. I thought: If he would only change, life would be so much better! But I began to realize this very freeing principle: The choices I make is what has the most impact on the quality of my life.
There will always be a gap between what we expect, what we hope and dream for, and what we actually get. No man is perfect. But you have a choice to make. What will you choose in the gap?
  • Accept him or reject him?
  • Forgive him or stay angry and bitter?
  • Believe the best and stay hopeful or expect the worse?
  • Work on your issues or focus on his inadequacies?
  • Choose good and wholesome life-giving activities that will enrich yours and your children's lives or fill your time with stuff that just makes life more complicated?
We pick. Every day. What will you pick? What you choose makes the difference.

However, here is the disclaimer. There may be some of you who are married to a man who hurts you. Maybe it is physical wounds. Maybe it is just with words, but the words hurt so bad, you would have preferred him to just strike you. And you hate to admit it even to yourself, but you are afraid and it is getting worse. He says he is sorry, but then it happens again and again. You too have a choice. Sadly the choice is to get out and stay safe or stay there and get hurt. Yes forgiveness is still important but in this case, you need to do it from a safe distance and wait from there until he changes. If this is you, please seek help. Take the first step in getting to a safe place today. Don't wait because aggressive angry behavior does not just go away, it escalates and gets worse.


In today's society, we often think of relationships in terms of ourselves: what we want to get out of the relationship, our goals, our desires, our needs, and then, later those of our children. Let me challenge you today to consider the needs of your husband. The bonus is loving your husband in the way he most feels love is the strongest motivator in closing this gap. When he feels loved and respected, he will more likely respond with love towards you. If there was one Disney princess that most resembled real life, it was Belle from Beauty and the Beast. In that story, Belle's love for the Beast transformed him into a prince. I found it worked well with my prince too!

All men are different but here are some things that have worked for me:

After the birth of my first daughter, I found I was so exhausted and tired of being touched all day, my need for affection and sex was greatly diminished. I'm not the only one who has felt that way, right? But Al's need for affection and sex had not changed, and it made things, well, tense between us. We talked about this recently and as he remembers it in retrospect, he felt less loved during that time. I found that I didn't need to be "in the mood" to participate in or even to initiate sex, because I would find I would become "in the mood" after we started. Have you started to drift away from him in this area? Let me I encourage you to shower him with affection and be an enthusiastic and willing sex partner.

Remember dating? I found out how important it was to continue dating even after we got married and especially after we had children. We didn't need to be spending a lot of money, and often we traded with friends for child care. We needed to spend time playing together. I would encourage you to try for a date night at least once a month and if you can swing it, a weekend away once a year. For Al, it didn't even need to be that complicated. He just wanted me to spend time with him doing things he likes to do. Sitting outside and chatting with him while he worked on the cars felt like love to Al. Recently, we spent a weekend painting. I hate painting and working with Al is exasperating for me because I like to get right down to work first thing in the morning, and he prefers to linger over breakfast and coffee and start a few minutes before noon. But I let him lead this time and not only did we get all the work done, but we actually bonded in the process. My being with him helped him feel valued and appreciated. So work along side him, play with him. It will make him feel loved.

The world is a hard, cruel place. Our homes should be havens of love and care. Encouraging Al and telling him how much I appreciate him and that I have confidence in him is so vital to his emotional health. So I tell him he is wonderful as often as possible. I look for things he does right and remember to compliment and thank him. It is hard to do, because I tend to not notice the everyday mundane good things and complain about the things that are wrong.

So what are some things you can do to make your husband feel you love and respect him? Let me encourage you to try at least one this week.

So, one more time, to review:

What does it take to not only survive in marriage, but to stay in love?
  1. Tell him.
  2. Accept him.
  3. Love him.

Having daughters was very different from having boys, those of you who are mothers of both sexes know that. Watching my daughter raise my grandson, Giovanni, I had this revelation. Deep inside, all men are boys, looking for approval, love and respect. No matter what they look like on the outside, they look like my grandson on the inside. It made me look Al differently.
As I considered my 30 year marriage, what really stands out for me is how much we needed God in each season of our lives together. Remember when Al and I were separated? As I considered my life at that time, I can only credit the power of God, unleashed by the passionate and faithful prayers of my father, in the reunion and future success of my marriage. No matter what I have tried and what I have done, ultimately all glory goes to God, and I thank Him every day. In His great mercy, God has answered my frequent prayer for my husband, which is, Lord, make Al the man You always wanted him to be.

Marriage is not for sissies. We need to pray always and have hope. We must be willing to do what is needed to keep our marriage strong, not only for ourselves, but also for our children. When we do, and when it works, and sadly there are no guarantees, we will be rewarded with a joy and peace beyond anything written about in fairy tales.

Let's pray for the Spirit of God to help us, for with God, nothing is impossible.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

What I learned in 2011

When I came home today, Al shared with me his list of what he learned in excellent idea to review and record. So here is my list too...
  1. It is important to find a place where you feel valued for what you have to contribute. I have found that in my job. After 3 years, I feel competent and my boss regularly reminds me of how much he appreciates my contribution. My office is a special place filled with the nicest, most caring of people. All of us make unique contributions and add to the whole. We care and encourage each other. It is sweet and I am blessed and blossoming. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

  2. That leads me to the second thing, which is attitude is everything and it is all about choice. There are always things that can be improved, and we are surrounded by imperfect people because we are all imperfect! Having a positive attitude makes the difference between joy and peace verses depression and angst. And it is all about our perspective, which is our choice. We can choose to be positive, to dwell on the goodness and to have hope for the future. Even when we are surrounded by people who are negative, we can still choose to look past it, to change the subject, to unabashedly smile in the face of it. If there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Phil 4:8)

  3. Forgiveness is vital to happiness. I have learned to drag up past hurts, not to review and relive them, but to route them out to forgive those who have thoughtlessly and even ruthlessly hurt me. It has given me such peace and joy! My greatest regret is that I did not do this sooner. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

  4. Learning is good but application is better. These past years I have learned so much about God, grace, faith and Biblical history from my pastor and I am truly blessed. But this past year, my learning has been supplemented by others who preach towards application: how the Word of God can work in my life. It has helped me in my relationships, my work, my attitude, everything. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:22)

  5. Be still and know that I am God. I am not there yet, but I am getting better at not driving, sitting next to God and letting His take the wheel and direct my life as opposed to dragging Him down the road by His hair. I just read the rest of this verse recently: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm 46:10). God will accomplish all His plans. God doesn't need my help. Nor does anyone else. It is not my portion to look around and see what no one else wants to do and then do that thing. Maybe it was during a prior season. Now I can wait for Him to lead me. The still small voice. Or He can kick the door open. Whatever. But I am no longer into hair pulling and I am praising Him that He has been so patient and longsuffering with me.
Father, lead me, direct me into Your wonderful plans for the next year! I love You! Help me trust You more!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Grandma, is there really a Santa Claus?

As Christmas approached this year, a dear friend asked me if we have told our grandson Giovanni about Santa Claus and if I regret, in retrospect, not telling my daughters about Santa Claus. Isn't there something missing to the Christmas experience, she wanted to know, some of the wonder and excitement?

I have been thinking about this, sort of pondering it in my heart as I watch the second generation of this being played out in my grandson.

Although I had always believed in God, in June 1988, when Christina. my first daughter, was 6 months old, I made a commitment to Christ in a new and personal way. It was only six months later, when Christina was turning 1, that she had her first Christmas and in my new zeal for God, decided not to include Santa Claus in the tradition. Instead Christina was told that grandparents, aunts, uncles and mom and dad give presents. We had a wood manger with plastic figures and every year we played out the Christmas story with the plastic figures of Mary, Joseph, the shepherd and angels. We read stories about the Christmas story and as she grew older, we went to church, she sang on the stage and went to classes where the Bible story of Christmas was taught. Oh, sure we had Santa figures in our home. We also had a lovely picture book, The Night Before Christmas. But I never told either daughter that Santa was real. I told them Jesus, Mary and Joseph were real. The angels were real. The wise men were real.

When they went to pre-school, I remember one day when a mom asked my younger daughter Debbie what Santa was going to bring her for Christmas. Debbie, always shy, just looked at her and said nothing. Debbie did not know what to say because this was not her world.

When they were little, I took them to sit on Santa's lap and have their photos taken. But I never taught them to ask Santa for presents, to write him letters, to be good so that he would not put coal in their stockings. Instead I told them to pray to Jesus for everything, to read His Word, and that He came to earth because we all could not be good enough. Jesus became a baby so we could know Him and He could save us, because we could never be good or smart or talented or strong enough to save ourselves.

The year Debbie was in first grade, she asked me if she could pretend Santa was real. I smiled and told her, of course, that was a wonderful thing to pretend.

When I joined a church, both the Pastor's and the worship leader's kids believed in Santa Claus. Repeatedly, I had to remind my daughters to keep the secret. Of course, I do not believe that telling your kids there is a Santa is somehow un-Christian. This is not a hill I am prepared to die on. However, for better or worse, I have have broken the Santa tradition for my family. My daughters do not know how to make-believe Santa. Instead, this year, Giovanni, astute and eager for to the things of God, has played with the plastic manger people and has gone to church class and sang "Happy Birthday Jesus" on the stage with his church class. He even memorized his verse, Luke 2:11. The excitement and wonder of the season has not been lost on him as he ponders God becoming a baby, the angels who broke out of heaven to sing to the shepherds, and the wise men traveling from a far place, following a super star to find Baby Jesus.

It is my opinion that if you believe in the Word of God, there is plenty of excitement. I remember the disappointment when, as a child, I had to give up my belief in Santa Claus. I now have more than made up for the awe and wonder in the truth of the season.

Jesus, King of Heaven, Lord of the angels, laid down His crown and all His spectacular glories to come close to us, even as close as a baby. He did this because He loves me, my family, indeed all of us. The endlessness of the wonder of that act can be awesome for eternity and needs no embellishments. My daughters and grandson are evidence that even the youngest child can understand and be awed by the truth. The pretend is not needed.

So, the answer is no, I think that for my family at least, I did the right thing. Giovanni never did ask me this question: Is there really a Santa Claus? Instead he asks me questions about the angels, Mary and baby Jesus.

After all, isn't that the real question and the real reason for the Joy of the season?

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord. ~ Luke 2:11

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Blind SPOTs

And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, "Let me remove the speck from your eye"; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. --Matt 7:3-5

They are so easy to see, aren't they? Other people's sin's I mean. I scratch my head and say to myself, "Can't they SEE that?" But they cannot. It's a blind spot. I may even try to tell them, point it out to them, explain it seven different ways. Lately I don't even bother. Because it is a blind spot and they cannot see.

And then, I get this chill. I have them too, blind spots. And I can't see them either. I worry about that. I ask friends to be honest, but they love me and sometimes in a effort to be kind, or maybe from exhaustion, they just don't say it. What needs to be said. What I need to hear. To see, but cannot see.

There are two good ways to see my blind spots, though. One is to listen to my daughters. Daughters are the gift God gives us to remove all blind spots, if we can swallow our pride and hear them. My daughters know me so well. They know all the spots and are "fresh meat" so to speak. I have learned to try to swallow hard and listen to them, even when they are rude and it hurts.

Another is when you have this disagreement thing. I find myself disagreeing with what someone else is thinking or doing. I have begun to ask this important questions: Is is me, Lord? Maybe it not them. Maybe they are right--or at least right-er. Maybe they have another perspective that is valid. Maybe they are not wrong, just different. Maybe I don't know all the facts. Maybe I have a part in the problem. Maybe the bulk of the problem is not them--maybe, just maybe, it is me.

Pride. It is the smoke that hides our blind spots.

Father, help me. I ask that I may receive sight, insight and healing for my blind spots!

So Jesus answered and said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
The blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road. -- Mark 10:51-52

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Happy are the Meek

No one would ever accuse me of being meek. Assertive, probably. Aggressive, sometimes. Pushy, often. I am an initiator, someone who makes things happen. In the business world you hear the saying "Some people watch things happen, some people make things happen and some people wonder what happened." I never wanted to be the weak person, the person who waited around, a sorry victim.

But Jesus' words go against what the business world says. Jesus says, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." (Matthew 5:5)

The Amplified version says it ever louder:

Blessed [happy, blithesome, joyous, spiritually prosperous--with life-joy and satisfaction in God's favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions] are the meek [the mild, patient, long-suffering], for they shall inherit the earth!

This is the Beatitude I could not swallow. I could not be quiet. I had to speak up. How would anyone know if I did not tell them? It is even hard to explain it. Even now, when I hear troubling news, I want to do something, say something, take some action. Wouldn't the worst happen is I did nothing?? If I said nothing???

And then today, I found these verses hidden like a pearl in the psalms:

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For those who are evil will be destroyed,
but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.
A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.
But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity. -- Psalm 37

Suddenly, I saw the meek differently. They were people who had faith to wait on the Lord and to trust in Him, that He would bring justice, peace and prosperity. Being meek is not the lack of action, it is instead the activeness of faith. They are trusting in the Lord, and their hope is not in their words, their actions, but in Him and what He will bring to pass in due time. Instead of me pushing, prodding, nagging, scolding, warning, and then wondering why nothing is happening, it is trusting God to speak, to open doors in due time, to bring things to pass by His Spirit in marvelous and miraculous ways.

Father, You alone open doors and shut them. You alone hold eternity in Your hand. Justice and promotion and prosperity is Yours to shower upon us. Not because we are smart or quick or lovely, or even pushy. But because You love us. And because we are Yours.

Help me wait on You with hope. Enable me to be meek and bless me with Your peace.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Closed doors, open doors

It has been my prayer, "Lord shut the doors you don't want me to enter, and open wide the ones You do."

It used to be my frustrated wail that people shut doors for me, not allowing me in. But then, I began to see the Lord's protective hand on the shut doors and began to praise Him instead. Lately, as I have begun to seek other places in ministry, the doors continue to shut. I have walked away this time, thinking it too was the Lord protecting me.

Tonight as I look at the scriptures, they are full of open doors ~ doors open for ministry and salvation. God is not closing doors for His children, He opens them. Recently as I prayed I saw God kicking wide open a door for me. "You will not miss it," He seemed to say. In the scriptures, I see doors open as we knock and seek God in prayer.

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Luke 11:10

Maybe I gave up too soon? Maybe if I labor in prayer the door will yet open for me.

Father, I know You alone open and close doors. And I am grateful for how You have guided me through the ones You have closed as well as the ones you have opened. Father, I want to serve you. Please open wide the door for ministry for me. Please let me back in!!

Better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless. Psalm 84:10-11

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Terror and Trust

It was a clear sunny September day as I drove my youngest daughter, Debbie, to elementary school and then made my way to work at Montclair Community Church.

The first I heard about it was from William, who called as usual on Tuesday to ask me to send him a audio tape of Sunday's message. Then he said he had to turn around because they were not letting anyone into New York City (where he worked as a dentist) because of something happening at the World Trade Center.

After that, the phone rang non-stop. With no TV, radio or internet at the church, the phone was my only source of information. From it, reports came of the first and then the second plane hitting the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the crashing of the towers. In between, there were people calling about people of the church who may have been in the city. Mike called asking for Ken, who he thought worked in the World Trade Centers. Then later came the call from Ken, who had ran out of the towers after the first plane hit, and was safe but making the long trip on foot uptown. I thanked him for calling as I wiped away tears. Eventually Ken made his way over the George Washington Bridge and home.

Terrorists, they call it. And it was, even 10 miles away in Montclair, even with no TV to see what was unfolding, there was terror. I wondered what was happening and when it would stop. I wondered if I should pick up my daughter from school and go home. Instead I felt the Lord leading me to stay at my post, keep answering the phone, keep praying in between.

At the end of the day, we sat in front of the TV and watched the story be retold over the news. The fire, the cloud of dust, the surreal shots of the people jumping out of windows to their death below, preferring that to the flames. The three of us drove to Eagle Rock where we knew we could see the buildings, or at least the place where the building once stood. When we got there, no cars were being allowed to enter the reservation, so we parked on the street and walked the winding road to the lookout point.

At the lookout was a mob of people staring at the rising tower of smoke that was the twin towers. And we stood and talked and stared at the remains of the unthinkable tragedy.

It was Wednesday afternoon when I heard about Susan. My mom called me after lunch and said that Susan was in the towers, on the top floors for a business meeting. I had not even thought about her because she usually worked in Summit. No one had heard from her. I wept with my mother, and then prayed with those at the church that afternoon. Later that evening I had a meeting planned and left early to stop at my brother's house so I could tell him the news in person. It was only fair. He had come my my beach house early that morning years before to tell me about Gerald. Now I went to tell him about Susan. How do you start a conversation like that? It was his birthday. It was all unthinkable. Unbelievable. Later I called my Aunt Ann. She asked me to pray that they would find Susan. Her only daughter. Eventually they did find her body, and I thank God for that. Susan was only 54, still beautiful, bright, kind, gracious and loved by all who knew her.

In His mercy, Jesus gave me a visual of my father meeting Susan in heaven. She came to sit down with him at the table. And my dad turns to her and says "Susan, what are you doing here? And so soon." And she smiles at him and returns, "I don't know, Uncle Gabe. I was just sitting down at a meeting, having a cup of coffee with my dear friend from work, and all of a sudden, here I am." Father, that it happened like that for her, suddenly finding herself in Your arms, without terror, without pain.

Tomorrow morning at 8 a.m., I will return to Eagle Rock, meeting 22 other family members as we remember Susan, and the others who were lost to a morning of terror. Beloved, You promise to wipe every tear from our eyes, indeed that You store up our tears in a bottle. Let the frailness of these bodies and the briefness of our stay here remind us to love You and each other. Comfort us and remind us in the brutality and terror of this world, You are still good and powerful and love us.

Beyond the terror, let us trust You!

When I am afraid, I put my trust in You. -- Psalm 56:3

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Rest to Work

Moses assembled the whole Israelite community and said to them, “These are the things the LORD has commanded you to do: For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a day of sabbath rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death." -- Exodus 35:1-2

Today we go on vacation. Frazzled to the bone with work pressures, meetings, and the duties of our home and family, I have been wanting to crash but have been lying in my bed with eyes wide open, thoughts whirling. This morning, I opened the scriptures and found this. This section of scripture is primarily about building the tabernacle, the house of the Lord. The Israelites have been asked to offer their belongings and their services to build the tabernacle, but before they are called to service, they are called to rest. I almost missed this part. But God is serious, so serious that He said those who refuse Sabbath rest will be put to death.

Put to death because you do not rest.

As a diligent worker, I can see why. Even if I am doing church work, sometimes especially if I am doing church work, I can miss the importance of rest, refreshment, re-filling of the Spirit in the urgency of my tasks. Yes, diligence is important, but also is rest.

So as I sat with my Bible open this morning reading these words, I can hear our Father saying, "You need to rest!."

Because often I can work myself to death -- work so hard that I hurt myself and even hurt others as I try to serve them, because I run out of Spirit and serve only out of myself. Myself is never enough, never transforming, merely wood, hay and stubble. I have been praying and praising, but not as diligent in reading and reflecting on the Word. I have been moving too fast and need to slow down.

So we are packing our car and driving off to Camp of the Woods, to refresh our spirits as well as our minds and bodies. Then we will return ready to work and serve with the Love of our Father. Because we will be full -- of Him.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

So celebrate this festival

Exodus 13-14

"So celebrate this festival at the appointed time each year... And in the future, your children will ask you, 'What does all this mean?' Then you will tell them, 'With the power of his mighty hand, the Lord brought us out of Egypt, the place of our slavery'... This ceremony will be like a mark branded on your hand or your forehead. It is a reminder that the power of the Lord’s mighty hand brought us out of Egypt."

When I returned to the place of study I was at when I started the gospel of Mark during lent, I find myself at the first Passover, and these verses. Because I worked in the church, I know that pastors often struggle with Easter services, as they try to keep it fresh every year, not only for the congregation, but for themselves. Sometime, they drift away from the traditional stories because, they figure, we have heard it so many times before.

Perhaps they do a us all a disservice. Easter, like Passover, is a celebration of deliverance, something to remember, something to perpetually celebrate because we forget, it can become common place. Immediately following in the text of Exodus, the Israelites find themselves between the powerful armies of Egypt and the Red Sea, but that was exactly where God had led them. We hear the plans of God in the text:

"And once again I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after you. I have planned this in order to display My glory through Pharaoh and his whole army. After this the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord!"

When the Israelites realize where they are in the natural, they react in terror. I should not blame them, I would too! Actually, I have too. But it was God's plan and His plan was for their freedom and His glory!! Isn't that what our pain, our trials, are about too?

See how soon the Israelites forgot God's love and His power! We too forget.

So, as God commanded the Israelites to celebrate the Passover annually, we too must celebrate with routine, with passion, without apology, the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He had risen from the dead and He lives. And because He lives, we are all victors with Him.

It is not only a blind tradition of our fathers. It is wisdom to look back every year at this season and remember the life of Jesus. To read of His great and passionate compassion. To remember His humility and service. To be awed again of His miraculous powers. To weep with Him over those who would not believe. To be ashamed at those who abandoned Him and killed Him. To delight again with Him in His victory over death.

Let us remember and celebrate over and over again. Let our children learn and carry on the traditions that strengthen our faith as we remember.

Remember. And celebrate.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

He has risen!

Mark 16:1-8

Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?"

We worry about goofy stuff. As they are walking to the tomb, they ask themselves this question. Actually, in the end, this question was irrelevant. Because Jesus was not there anyway. Certainly it was their love of God, and God's love for them that drew them there, but the details, they did not know.

God is a God of surprises. Sometimes He does not mean to surprise us. Here Jesus told them this was going to happen, but we can't get it, wrap our arms around it until it happens.

Jesus, You concurred death. You rose again. You are eternal and above death and Your Spirit will cause me also to rise to be with You forever. What a beautiful end to this story. You win, therefore we win.

"You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.' "

You rose and we tell. Go and tell. Father, encourage me to get busy about going and telling. Even if they will not hear it. Our response to such good news is to share it. Help me have courage to do this, Beloved.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

a very large stone against the door of the tomb

Mark 15:40-47
As evening had already come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, [the day] before the Sabbath, Joseph, he of Arimathea, noble and honorable in rank and a respected member of the council (Sanhedrin), who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, daring the consequences, took courage and ventured to go to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.

But Pilate wondered whether He was dead so soon, and, having called the centurion, he asked him whether Jesus was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that He was indeed dead, he gave the body to Joseph.

And Joseph bought a fine linen cloth for swathing dead bodies, and, taking Him down from the cross, he rolled Him up in the fine linen cloth and placed Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of a rock. Then he rolled a very large stone against the door of the tomb.

There is always a remnant. Although the crowd mocked and spat on Him, there were those who waited and watched from afar, looking for God's timing to act. And we find several woman and a man named here who were doing just that.

Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome were women of courage, who may have watched from afar, but could not leave Him. They watched the crucifixion, and then watched Jesus be buried in the tomb, waiting for their time to act. They were in no hurry to run before God's timing, but nor were they far away. They watched and waited.

Joseph, who was not even part of Jesus' party, was the man who stepped in with courage. Courage seemed to be the word here, as the story closes. Some had courage. Some did not. The ones who did were able to act on the behalf of God in a bold way, and see how God paved the way for Joseph -- Pilot allowed him to have the Body.

Watchfulness, patience, courage. All are needed to be part of the remnant, to be fruitfully used by God. Missing watchfulness means you miss it, you can not hear the message of God and know what to do for the time. Missing patience means you are reckless and can move ahead and therefore away from God. Missing courage means you are inactive and miss out on the power of God in effective service to Him. We need His power because the stone in front of the tomb is too big for us alone. But in Him, all things are possible!

Father, help me have all three of these things. Allow me to stay close to You, listening always, not running ahead, but neither lagging behind in what You would have me do. Allow me to have the balance of these three things by being well rooted in You.

Use me too, Beloved. I want to see Your power in me. Your power, not mine. And I will give You glory.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Crucify Him!

Mark 15:1-39
“Crucify him!”

“Ha! Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, save yourself and come down from the cross!”

“He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can't save himself! Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down from the cross so we can see it and believe him!”

At this brief interval, the Man who crowds walked miles to see, was alone, mocked and killed. Where were the people He healed? The people He taught? The people He fed? Not to be found in this crowd. This Man who spent His life loving people is hated and ridiculed by His own people. His own family! Even His disciples, those who He pulled closest to Him, who He told His secrets to, abandoned Him.

Finally came the final straw... “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” It seems to Jesus that even His Father turned His back on Him.

How this must have hurt You, to be rejected by the very people You came to serve, to save, to heal! They rejected You, or were too afraid of the consequences to truly love You. And Your Father in heaven who You faithfully obeyed even to the point of death, even He seems to abandons You.

Beyond the pain of emotional isolation, there is the futility of pride here. How does a mere mortal mock God and live? We try to control life but it is out of our control. But here, in this fragment of the story, we see evil triumph and good take a hit.

But even in the darkness, there are those who see... “This man truly was the Son of God!” This is how I want to be, I want to see You in truth. Even with all that went on, this man was still able to see through it all to the truth.

Father, open the eyes of my heart. I want to see You.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

and they prepared the Passover meal

Mark 14

As the time grows short, here is written a profile of those who loved Him, those who hated Him, she who worshipped Him with abandon, he too fearful to be known as His friend, he who in his stubborn willfulness betrayed Him. All line up as the story draws to an end.

Mary ... there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head. How she loved Him! So she worshipped Him. She alone seems to understand His words, His prediction. And because she sided with His party, she is ridiculed and shamed, but see, her Savior champions her... "Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her."

Judas ... then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went off to the chief priests in order to betray Him to them. Judas could not accept the truth of who Jesus was and also, what He planned to do. We will never really know what was in Judas' heart that night when he went to the chief priests to betray the Lord of Glory, we can only guess. My guess is the sin of stubborn pride. Judas knew better. He thought he was right. In reality, no one was ever more wrong.

Peter ... But Peter kept saying insistently, "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" And they all were saying the same thing also. Although Peter is highlighted as the one who denied Jesus, we see as the story continues that all run from Him. None can even stay awake to keep watch and pray with Him. Peter's response is the what makes him different from Judas: And Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, "Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times." And he began to weep. Peter is sorrowful in his sin. Confession is in his heart as soon as he awakens to his sin.

Mark ... Tradition holds that this segment is autobiographical: And they all left Him and fled. A young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him. But he pulled free of the linen sheet and escaped naked. Mark makes this confession about himself. How daringly honest! We can be encouraged that this fearful naked man wrote a gospel.

Jewish Council ... Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, and they were not finding any. For many were giving false testimony against Him, but their testimony was not consistent.They were going to have their way. By truth or by lies, they wanted to be rid of Jesus. How they hated Him! In the end, Jesus' truthful testimony allows them to claim blastphemy and to condemn Him to death:

"Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?"


Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, "What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?" And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.

This Man Jesus, is not a good teacher. He is God, as He claims. All of His miracles point to this truth.
But not only must we embrace truth, we must embrace Him. We must worship Him. We must humble ourselves and weep when we go astray, and then Jesus demonstrates His love by welcoming us back.

Father, allow me to be more like Mary, worshipping You with reckless abandon. Allow me to notice my sin quickly and weep like Peter, knowing You saw my sin from afar and yet still love me! Let me not be afraid to confess truely who I am with all my faults before others so that they can be encouraged, as Mark did.

Let me not only know the truth but also embrace you as my Beloved!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Stay at your post. Keep watch.

Mark 13
As he walked away from the Temple, one of his disciples said, "Teacher, look at that stonework! Those buildings!"

Jesus said, "You're impressed by this grandiose architecture? There's not a stone in the whole works that is not going to end up in a heap of rubble."

We are just so impressed with ourselves and our creations and our world. Like this is our world. But it is not. Reminds me of that sweet old hymn:

This is my Father's world: He shines in all that's fair;
in the rustling grass I hear Him pass; He speaks to me everywhere.

Everything we have created in this world will pass away, not one stone will be left on another. This is His world and He is coming back for it. We cannot know when He is coming nor can we stop Him.

"the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken."

Father, we forget, in our busy-ness that you are in charge and rule over all things. You will return to shake things up and to take over. We can only wait, watch and be ready.

"It's like a man who takes a trip, leaving home and putting his servants in charge, each assigned a task, and commanding the gatekeeper to stand watch. So, stay at your post, watching. You have no idea when the homeowner is returning, whether evening, midnight, cockcrow, or morning. You don't want him showing up unannounced, with you asleep on the job. I say it to you, and I'm saying it to all: Stay at your post. Keep watch."

Father, allow me to see Your face in all things. Let the sweetness and colors of spring remind me You are coming again to take over and take the world away and give us Your kingdom in all its completeness and grandeur! I am so timid to speak of You, Jesus, but only You can save them. I must redeem the time because I do not know how much more time we have.

Make me bold. Make me ready. Make me more like You.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

she gave extravagantly...she gave her all

Mark 12:35-44
Sitting across from the offering box, [Jesus] was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, "The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they'll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn't afford—she gave her all."

I love it when the pastor says at church collection time how God doesn't need our money. Of course the treasurer says something different on the day he reports on the church budget! But it is true, God does not seem to look and give extra credit to those who give more, or who have positions in the church, or who are scholars, although those things may be good.

The giving thing is a test--and God already knows our score. It is a test to see how much we trust God, how much we believe in His provision and His promises. How much we truly love others. The test score is for us to see where our heart is, how big our faith is.

As Jesus saw and extravagantly praised the widow with her two measly cents, so He sees and is blessed by my small contribution to the Body of Christ and the advance of His kingdom. Maybe my offering is small, but it is all I have.

Beloved, You do not call my offering small or unimportant. As I give my all to You, You are pleased, delighted, calling to Your friends, "See, Barbara's husband has committed his life to me, and now they are giving back by doing that marriage course!" You rejoice over me, over us. Help me remember and rejoice with You!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

much more than burnt offerings

Mark 12:13-24
Later the leaders sent some Pharisees and supporters of Herod to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. "Teacher," they said, "we know how honest you are. You are impartial and don't play favorites. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them, or shouldn't we?"

Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, "Why are you trying to trap me?"

With Jesus, attitude is everything. He sees right through all three groups and can tell what is really on their hearts. The Pharisees aren't seeking God's wisdom but trying to show Him up. Same with the Sadducees. It was only the last teacher who was interested in truth, and it was him that Jesus commended:

Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, "You are not far from the Kingdom of God."

We learn the ways of God and know our Bible, but it is our heart and our willingness to learn that makes the difference with God. I listen to teaching, but am I open to change? Am I open to what God is trying to tell me? All the teaching in the world will not help if I cannot hear it and apply it to my life.

Father, help me be open, allow me to listen to those who see my blind spots and point them out to me. Don't let me allow pride or fear get in the way of confession and apologizing.

... to love Him out of and with all the heart and with all the understanding, with the faculty of quick apprehension and intelligence and keenness of discernment, and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.

Father, help me to show my love for You in all my actions.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Come, let us kill Him

Mark 12:1-12
"A man planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a place for the wine vat and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that he might receive some of the fruit of the vineyard from the vinedressers. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed.

Again he sent them another servant, and at him they threw stones, wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully treated. And again he sent another, and him they killed; and many others, beating some and killing some. Therefore still having one son, his beloved, he also sent him to them last, saying, 'They will respect my son.'

But those vinedressers said among themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard."

I know Jesus knows everything. He knew before He came to earth how the thing was going to end. He knew, He predicted it.

But then He got to experience it in real time. Even though He knew, even though He is God, I can imagine how He felt.

He created the earth for us. Planted the gardens, placed the stars into space and the sun and moon orbiting around us just right. He created the animals one by one and finally, His crown creation, man and woman. Then we sinned and could not find the way out, even with the map of the Law. No, the problem was deep within our hearts.

So Jesus left paradise and came to the vineyard to save us. And how did that go?

"Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours."

We think we have control. We try to manipulate life. Even my prayers are trying to get the best for my family, but what do I know of best?

This is Your world, and everything and everyone in it. Nothing exists or happens outside of Your permission and control. Father, You have given us everything. In return You just wanted some of Your own fruit.
Father, You felt this in real time, this rejection of Your Beloved Son! "They will respect my son!" No, they did not. They killed Him and cast Him out of the vineyard. How Your heart must have broke! How sad and frustrating it must have been, Jesus, to look into the eyes of these children of Yours that You had created and dearly loved, and have them not recognize You, have them hate You. Maybe this is why You give us teenagers, to help us understand this gut-wrenching feeling.

I am sorry, Father, for all the times I have grasped for control, not trusting You. Forgive me for trying to get my way, because I thought it was "better." How arrogant! Help me to be forgiving and humble, as You were.
I thank You that You came anyway. Help me lean into You and allow You to have Your way with me.

Lord, Thy Kingdom Come!

This was the LORD's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Show us your credentials

Mark 11:27-33
The high priests, religion scholars, and leaders came up and demanded, "Show us your credentials. Who authorized you to speak and act like this?"

Jesus responded, "First let me ask you a question. Answer my question and then I'll present my credentials. About the baptism of John—who authorized it: heaven or humans? Tell me."

They were on the spot, and knew it. They pulled back into a huddle and whispered, "If we say 'heaven,' he'll ask us why we didn't believe John; if we say 'humans,' we'll be up against it with the people because they all hold John up as a prophet." They decided to concede that round to Jesus. "We don't know," they said.

Jesus replied, "Then I won't answer your question either."

Show me. Prove it to me. I get to judge if it is right or not. I must decide if it is true or not.

It begins to help me understand why God treasures humility. We are not to judge God. We are to seek God. We are to be open to the truth God gives us, not to judge Him and His words.

The religious leaders were not seeking God or truth, instead they were testing Jesus. But by definition, Jesus' answers are the right ones. They were playing a game with Jesus, one they were trying to win and make Jesus lose. But by definition, Jesus is the winner.

John the Baptist and Jesus had plenty of credentials. That's why people followed them. They were different. They had power in their words, and Jesus had the powers of heaven at His command. Anyone near Him could see that plain enough.

If they were willing to look.

Jesus did not plead with them to believe Him and His message. Nor was He deterred. He knew who He was and did not have to prove Himself. He knew where He was going and how He was going to save and not even the powers of hell could stop Him.

Father, help me to always have the humility to seek You in every situation. To be open to who You really are, not what I expect You to be. Help me to have the poise You had here, to know who I am in You, to know You will be with me where ever I go, and that all the powers of hell will not stop Your kingdom from coming.

Let it come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hosanna in the highest!

Mark 11:1-26
And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their outer garments upon it, and He sat on it. And many of the people spread their garments on the road, and others scattered a layer of leafy branches which they had cut from the fields.

And those who went before and those who followed cried out with a cry of happiness, Hosanna! Be graciously inclined and propitious to Him! Praised and blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord! Praised and blessed in the name of the Lord is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna (O save us) in the highest heaven!

Praise and prayer and forgiveness.

The common people loved Jesus. They saw a Savior in Him. They saw Him as the coming King, worthy of worship and adoration with joy. The religious leaders instead saw a threat and wanted to kill Him. Jealousy and fear filled their hearts.

Let me seek the love of the common people, as You did, Jesus. Let me love them one at a time, as You did. Allow me to feel Your pleasure as I minister one at a time. Release my heart from wanting to be noticed or sought after by the movers and shakers of the world. You are the biggest Mover and Shaker. You always see me and notice what I am doing. You always read every word I write, remember every sigh and success, keep all my tears in a bottle, wink at me from Your stage.

Jesus threw out the vendors and money changers in the temple reminding them all that His temple was a house of prayer. And later He reminds us again of the boldness of prayer. Pray for anything, even the impossible, especially the impossible! Our God is a god of miracles, and we need to expect them, remember them, trust for them, ask for them with the confidence of a beloved daughter. Prayer is a sacred thing, it can not be bought and sold. It is a free gift, lavished with love. We don't need to have in order to receive. We don't need to buy in order to receive. We just need to wait and trust with arms open.

Lastly, a requirement of prayer is forgiveness. Tonight I was reminded that all is not as it seems. We cannot know what lies in the depth of the hearts of others: their pain and their motivation. Often, I do not understand my own heart. Love mercy.

And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Praise and prayer and forgiveness. That is what church should be about. That is what my heart should be about. And Jesus will ride in, humbly on a colt.

Beloved Jesus, I praise You! You have given me everything I need. Remind me of Your mercy and humility so that I can walk in Your ways. May I always be among those who praise You and trust You alone to save me. Hosanna in the highest!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Many tried to hush him up, but he yelled all the louder

Mark 10:46-52
A blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus, was sitting alongside the road. When he heard that Jesus the Nazarene was passing by, he began to cry out, "Son of David, Jesus! Mercy, have mercy on me!" Many tried to hush him up, but he yelled all the louder, "Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!"

Jesus stopped in his tracks. "Call him over."

They called him. "It's your lucky day! Get up! He's calling you to come!" Throwing off his coat, he was on his feet at once and came to Jesus.

Jesus said, "What can I do for you?"

The blind man said, "Rabbi, I want to see."

"On your way," said Jesus. "Your faith has saved and healed you." In that very instant he recovered his sight and followed Jesus down the road.

If he was quiet, would Jesus have passed him by? If he was not so insistent, would he have not been healed?

This story is similar to the Syro-Phoenician woman from chapter 7 as Jesus is impressed with the faith of both. Both the woman and blind Bartimaeus want it more and are willing to be more insistent. Both are willing to push past ridicule and and rejection to ask for what they need. They are more focused on their savior than the crowd.

Bartimaeus' request follows only after he repeatedly acknowledges who Jesus is. Only after he casts off his outer garment, shaking off the old life to embrace the new.

"Rabbi, I want to see."

But he already sees better than some of the others because he can clearly see who Jesus is, what He can do and what He is willing to do.

He is able to heal you. He is willing to heal you. Even me.

Father, even now, I struggle to have this much faith. Through Your mercy, I can see who You are, as You have opened my eyes. But my faith to believe in Your healing needs strengthening. Bring to my mind all the times You have given me provision, healing, my heart's desire so I can be bold to trust You and ask.

Even when they try to hush me up, let me tell all the louder of Your love. For You have saved me.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

the highest places of honor

Mark 10:32-45
He took the Twelve and began again to go over what to expect next. "Listen to me carefully. We're on our way up to Jerusalem. When we get there, the Son of Man will be betrayed to the religious leaders and scholars. They will sentence him to death. Then they will hand him over to the Romans, who will mock and spit on him, give him the third degree, and kill him. After three days he will rise alive."
James and John, Zebedee's sons, came up to him. "Teacher, we have something we want you to do for us."

"What is it? I'll see what I can do."

"Arrange it," they said, "so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory—one of us at your right, the other at your left."

For all of His ministry, Jesus talked in parables, metaphors, word pictures and such. Finally here, as the time is drawing near, He calls the 12 closer to tell them clearly and explicitly what was going to happen to Him. It was really important that they understood and were prepared for what was about the happen. And when I read this as one section, I can see here how they totally missed it.

Jesus was on His way to death and there are concerned with seating arrangements and their career path.
Glory and honor belongs to she who serves. But first, we need to at least listen.

See here how they are not really paying attention to what Jesus is saying. They are too much into their own business, their own stuff, their own agenda. They totally miss the point.

Father, how much do I miss the point because I, like the disciples, are into my own stuff? Do I listen to You? Do I remember? Do I act on my faith when it counts? I have a hard enough time listening to Al when he is in the same room, how much more trouble it is to hear Your voice to me?

Father, I hear You saying I need to pray with my eyes shut, not when I am driving or doing dishes. I need to focus on You alone for that time of prayer. I need to sit more and listen more and do less. What good is doing anything for Kingdom glory if it is not at all what You are wanting me to do?

Let me be still and hear Your voice, and be reminded that You are God.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Sell everything

Mark 10:17-31
As [Jesus] went out into the street, a man came running up, greeted Him with great reverence, and asked, "Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?"

Jesus said, "Why are you calling Me good? No one is good, only God. You know the commandments: Don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't lie, don't cheat, honor your father and mother."

He said, "Teacher, I have—from my youth—kept them all!"

Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him! He said, "There's one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow Me."

The man's face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go...

Jesus said... "Children, how hard it is for those who trust (place their confidence, their sense of safety) in riches to enter the kingdom of God!"

My friend Sandy asked me about the fast I am doing now, why am I doing it. It's complicated and today I was thinking it through.

Faith, real faith, is about action.

Oh, yes, our salvation is from Christ alone, there is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and thankfully, nothing we can do to make Him love us less. And yet, if we say we have faith, if we say we believe, we must do things, live in a way, that is according to those beliefs, otherwise, then, we really don't believe what we say.

The fast is something Al and I are doing with a church we attend, so there are rules for the fast, the Daniel Fast, which is what we are doing. And I was excited about it at first, until I realized I had to give up coffee too. Food, ok, but the coffee, I am addicted to that caffeine fix, literally. I felt the push back as soon as I read that part of the fast. I considered, honestly, changing my mind and not doing it.

I sing with the crowd on Sunday evenings "with everything, with everything, we will shout for Your glory..." and yet, it is too uncomfortable, for Your glory, to give up a cup of coffee in the morning.

With everything means everything--like all of it. Talk is cheap, but what would happen, if I tried to walk it for say, 21 days? I mean, I need to know.

So I am fasting, there, I said it. And I am praying. It is not about weight loss, as who can lose weigh with all the rice and beans I am eating? It is like running a marathon--I am doing it because I need to know, I want to see what that feels like, what it is like, to praise Him, honor Him, love Him with everything.

Will Jesus love me more than you? Will He answer my prayers more than yours? Will some glorious thing fall out of the sky to me because I did this that would not have happened if I did not?

It does not matter. It's not about that. It is about me feeling what it is like to offer Him more of myself. Me getting closer to giving everything, selling everything. And ultimately it is about Him. Because I can't do it anyway. I have to let God do it.

That set the disciples back on their heels. "Then who has any chance at all?" they asked.

Jesus was blunt: "No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it."

God of all days, glorious in all of Your ways.
Your majesty, the wonder and grace, in the light of Your name.

With everything, with everything,
We will shout for Your glory.

So let hope rise, and darkness tremble in Your holy light,
And every eye will see Jesus, our God, great and mighty to be praised. (With Everything - Hillsong)

Thursday, April 07, 2011

simplicity of a child

Mark 10:1-15
"God made male and female to be together. Because of this, a man leaves father and mother, and in marriage he becomes one flesh with a woman—no longer two individuals, but forming a new unity...

A man who divorces his wife so he can marry someone else commits adultery against her. And a woman who divorces her husband so she can marry someone else commits adultery."

It's hard to live with a man. I know, I do. The other ones, the ones you are not living with--not putting up with their long hours at work, bad tempers, annoying habits--they always look more attractive.

But that is because you are looking at them from afar.

It seems so much easier to discard the old and get something new and better. But it is a big lie. Love is really about what happens inside the commitment, the one-ness. It is about submission and sacrifice, patience and forgiveness, and those are not bad things. In the end they are life-giving and full of joy. In our disposable society, it is so tempting to allow your marriage to flow apart. It is so much work to keep it together, but it is worth it.

More than that, Jesus commands it. It is clearer in the Message translation: relationship hopping was never God's intent. It ruins the spirit of the completeness and union He intended in creation. "It is not good for the man to be alone." We are blessed as we cleave together and stay together.

Father, thank You for giving me a blessed marriage. Help me to guard my heart to be faithful always to my man, the one You gave me. Allow my heart to have the simplicity of a child in trusting that Your ways are right and true in asking us to commit totally to our marriage union. Let our example encourage others to do the same, to show it is possible to stay together and stay in love, as we entrust our lives and hearts to You.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

take last place and be the servant of everyone else

Mark 9:30-50
The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of His enemies. He will be killed, but three days later He will rise from the dead...

Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else...

Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on My behalf welcomes Me, and anyone who welcomes Me welcomes not only Me but also My Father who sent Me...

If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded...

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.

The path to greatness, the road to success is about death, being last, welcoming children, service, leaving your sin behind, violently if need be. It is opposite of the way of the world. It is self-sacrificing, humiliating, lonely and painful.

This is the road Jesus took. He did not demand worship, though He was God and deserved worship. Instead, He offered service and sacrifice. He healed and fed and comforted and taught.

No one wants to volunteer for this part of it, but this is the only way. And He did not, from the comfort of heaven, only point to it and teach it to us. No, He came and showed us. He went first. And so we must follow.

Father, forgive me when I forget that the small acts of service, unnoticed, are unimportant. You see it all and are pleased and will reward. Remind me to flee sin, to be violent and resolute about it if need be. Renew my heart by Your whisper that tells me You see me and I am Your beloved child. I love You!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

His face and person yet glistening

Mark 9:14-29
And immediately all the crowd, when they saw Jesus returning from the holy mount, His face and person yet glistening, they were greatly amazed and ran up to Him and greeted Him.
And He asked them, About what are you questioning and discussing with them?

And one of the throng replied to Him, Teacher, I brought my son to You, for he has a dumb spirit. And wherever it lays hold of him so as to make him its own, it dashes him down and convulses him, and he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth, and he falls into a motionless stupor and is wasting away. And I asked Your disciples to drive it out, and they were not able to do it.

Jesus had just been transfigured, for a few moments, morphing into who He really is in glory, beyond His human body, and with the remains of that glory still clinging to Him, He returns down the mountain to the crowd.

But they don't notice!

They are intent on their own questions, their own problems, their own agenda. And even in hindsight, I have read this so many times, that I almost miss it as I read.

Jesus is God Almighty, glorious, glistening, other-worldly in substance and power is in their midst.

Oh, they do flock to Him, but not in worship, but with their issues. He knows He is almost at the end of His time on earth and His disciples will need to carry on, but they can't yet. They could not cast out this demon and heal the boy. But Jesus in His compassion and humility, is not deterred nor does He rebuke them. Instead He heals and encourages their faith and belief in Him.

This man, the father, is smart enough to know that although Jesus' disciples were unable to heal, Jesus still could. We could learn from this father. When the disciples of Jesus let us down, when the church lets us down, when our Christian friends let us down, (and they will!) still we need to run to Jesus who is greater, always greater.

Father, I am just like them! I run to You in prayer, but it is with my list and not to bow at You feet to worship You in glory! I do not notice that Your face is glistening. I focus instead on my agenda, my issues, my concerns. Father, remind me to begin my prayers with worship of You, in Your holiness and beauty and compassion and faithfulness and might. As I notice these things, as I ponder these things, it helps my unbelief.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

be treated with utter contempt

Mark 9:1-13
Jesus’ appearance was transformed and His clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them. Then Elijah and Moses appeared and began talking with Jesus ... Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.”
Suddenly, when they looked around, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus with them.

Here it is again, that other reality breaking into our world. Jesus is transformed before Peter, James and John, His glory temporarily breaking through His humanity. I love how The Message describes it: "His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes." The Holy Spirit inside Him broke through.

This is the transformation I want too! I long for the Holy Spirit You have given me to transform my heart and my mind so that I can display Your glory.

And yet, this glorious Jesus allowed mere men to treat Him with utter contempt. He hid His glory from their eyes and submitted to their hatred and violence, in order to save us.

They did not recognize Him. Nor did they see His world.

Father, help me to see and to live in Your kingdom reality. Give me peace as others also treat me with contempt. Help me to follow You and trust You in all things.

Friday, April 01, 2011

My way, to saving yourself, your true self

Mark 8:27-38
"Anyone who intends to come with Me has to let Me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow Me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, My way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?

"If any of you are embarrassed over Me and the way I'm leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you'll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when He arrives in all the splendor of God, His Father, with an army of the holy angels."

There is a reality beyond what we see. And that reality is huge, enormous, beyond words magnificent. It is hidden from the eyes of the world at large, and the pathway is also hidden to this unseen reality.

The pathway is self-sacrifice.

Everything around us and everything within us fights against this truth. As we see Peter here trying to deter Jesus from destruction from Peter's perception, but Jesus understands, this is the true road to paradise.

Take up your cross.

When we follow Jesus, this is where it leads us. To submission, to rejection, to having less, but having it all. It is not that we enjoy pain, it is an understanding of true worth. Not that we can really understand or even choose the right thing. He chooses for us as we choose to follow Him.

All the disciples knew was that He was the Christ, the Messiah. And that was all they needed to know. After that, they knew they had to follow Him. There was not one else to turn to, and no matter how it turned out, they were in. They sided with His party.

Father, I am here on earth and it is so real to me! I cannot deny my flesh for long and my eyes can see the world so clearly. Mostly as Peter did, I see things merely from a human point of view, not from Yours. Please open my eyes, and when I cannot see, help me to cling to You. I want to follow You even when I cannot see, because only You know the way.