Commitment

The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed. ~Martina Navratilova

I teach English to Chinese students online. That means I have to work on their time. Beijing Time is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Time, and when the time changes in a few months, it will be 13 hours different. I rise very early in the morning in order to teach my favorite students about my favorite thing: words.

One of my students is moving to western Canada. He will be 3 hours behind me. That poor boy is going to have class at 5:00 in the MORNING once the time changes! He is committed to learning the language and speaking it well.

Some people are committed to healthy living. They rise early to run or go to the gym. They eat low-carb, even on Thanksgiving, and they never drink soda.

Others are committed to their work. They email from their phone on vacation, stay late at the office, and make notes about a meeting when they wake in the middle of the night.

Some people are committed to family. They attend children’s concerts and competitions, have a family dinner once a week, and spend vacations together.

What makes you draw your every breath?

Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple. Luke 21:37-38 NIV

When you’re committed to something, you do what it takes to be there. Jesus was teaching in the temple, but people had to be at work. They had houses and children to care for. They had gardens to tend and animals to feed. But they knew they were hearing a good thing, and they wanted more of it. So Jesus met them early in the morning before all of that began.

It’s no different now. I have work. I have a house and kids. I have responsibilities that require my time and attention.

But I also know when I am hearing a good thing, when I need to hear a good thing.

And I make a commitment to be there.

My commitment isn’t early in the morning. Jesus and I meet at lunchtime, after my early morning work is completed and I can sit with him and have a pleasant conversation.

Everyone’s schedule is different. Early morning may be the best for you. Perhaps you need to meet Jesus at twilight after the children are snuggled in their beds.

It isn’t the timing that is important.

It’s the time.


Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. Revelation 3:20 NIV

Famous or Infamous

Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody expects of you. Never excuse yourself. ~Henry Ward Beecher

 

I was dropping off my first child at college. He was going to a place he had never been before, hadn’t even visited. I, however, knew the place and many of the people.

Students and parents stood outside in the blazing sun waiting to pay bills, get assignments, make final decisions. Faculty, staff, and upperclassmen helped direct foot traffic and lend a hand where needed.

An older gentleman approached.

“Welcome.” He smiled and shook my boy’s hand.

“Thanks.” The apprehensive man-child continued reading instructions.

“This is the school president.” I introduced the man to my son.

“Oh, sorry.” He shook the now-important-person’s hand.

There are people in life you don’t expect to meet. A university president moving boxes and greeting students is one of them.

A former United States President building houses for the poor with his own hands. A real Princess who touches lepers and AIDS victims.

Presidents and Princesses are out of most people’s circles. But maybe you know a mayor who packs sandbags to stop a flood. A wealthy podiatrist who gives his time to veterans with foot problems. A lawyer who moves to a poor neighborhood and mentors fatherless boys.

When people discover that I’m a preacher’s wife, it often changes their expectations of me. I get called “Mother” a lot. When people need answers, they come to me.

There is the possibility of forgetting my true place, my true calling.

“Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” Luke 20:46-47 NIV

The leaders of Jesus’s time were more concerned with how they looked than with the looks they gave.

They didn’t look twice at the broken, oppressed, lonely, or sick. They didn’t feed the hungry, visit the widow, or sit with the hurting.

They were too important, too above all that. Jesus said their honor would be punishment, their importance would be forgotten.

Maybe you aren’t President, Princess, Mayor, or even Preacher’s Wife. Perhaps the most recognition you get is an apple at the Teacher Appreciation Banquet.

But no matter what your status, you can learn from Jesus’s own  display of leadership.

Serve quietly. Speak kindly. Touch gently. Love completely.

Are you leading from the front of the crowd or guiding from the middle?


Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28 NIV

Climbing a Tree

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. ~William Blake

There was a cherry tree in the yard of my childhood home. My brother and I enjoyed climbing it.

I remember once, during cherry season, my brother and I climbed higher than before, trying to get to those sweet cherries. When he had had enough, my brother climbed down.

I, however, was stuck.

There was no going up and no coming down. My mother had to come out, climb the ladder, retrieve me, and carry me down.

About a day later, I climbed the tree again.

I got stuck again.

I wasn’t allowed to climb the tree after that.

Zaccheus was familiar with a tree, too.

Luke 19 tells us that he ran ahead of the crowd to climb a sycamore-fig tree. He was short and wanted to see Jesus among the people.

He must have had a relationship with that tree for it to pop into his head. Sycamore fig trees are about the size of apple or cherry trees, full of ripe fruit in the autumn.  I wonder if his mom ever had to rescue him when he was a youngster.

Maybe he had a relationship with lots of trees since he was short. I don’t know.

But what I do know is that Zaccheus used what was right in front of him to get to know Jesus better.

He was excited, curious, determined.

He had heard something that piqued his interest and he wanted to know more. When Jesus saw him in the tree, Jesus invited himself to dinner at Zaccheus’s house.

What trees are along your path?

Is your child asking you questions about faith? Settle in those branches to read the Bible together and look for the answers.

Are you struggling with a health issue that the doctors don’t understand? Hold tightly to the trunk for a month of fasting and prayer while looking for healing and/or other options.

Maybe you’ve lost a job, a loved one, or hope. Don’t worry. Even a dead tree can be climbed.

Are you using what’s right in front of you to know the Savior of the world even better? Are you climbing your tree?

What does your tree look like?


As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” Luke 19:41-44 NIV

Christmas Eve Prayers

Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge. ~Plato

A letter was written and posted in early December. Presents were purchased and shipped to the grandparents’ house so Santa wouldn’t be trapped in a confessional on the long drive there. Everywhere were the smells and sights of Christmas. Everything was set. Everyone was happy.

And then came Christmas Eve.

The bullet-pointed wish list was tossed aside for some new thing. The previously longed for toy was replaced by a new desire. What was just right before was now just wrong.

Have you been there?

As a parent, it is frustrating.

As Lord of All, it is expected.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Luke 18: 1-8 NIV

Jesus tells us to keep on praying and never give up. Let God know this isn’t a Christmas Eve wish but truly desired.

Have you been praying for years? Are you consistent in your request? Have you fasted and wept? Are you wearing the judge out with your asking?

Over the years I have discovered that my husband doesn’t really mean that he is interested in something unless he talks about it at least four times. In his agonizing over something, he shows me his heart, his true desire.

That’s what God is listening for
 – your heart.

As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” . . . He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

. . . When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” 

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.

Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God. Luke 18: 35-43 NIV

Look Up

One must always be aware, to notice even though the cost of noticing is to become responsible. ~Thylias Moss

We drive through the Great Smoky Mountains when my brother-in-law tells the kids to look around them. They have phones in hand.

I sit at my desk day after day, teaching and writing. My mouth drops open when I realize we are halfway through the year and summer is well past its beginning.

Grandma buys baby toys for the seven-year-old. The expiration date on the medicine is five years past. And the little girl I taught yesterday is getting married in a month.

Life passes so quickly, without our noticing.

Would you believe it was the same thousands of years ago?

26 “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

28 “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. 29 But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. Luke 17 NIV

That was Jesus talking. Notice there isn’t anything wrong with what the people were doing: enjoying the good things of life, attending weddings and parties, planning for the future, conducting business.

The problem was that they didn’t look up. They didn’t see what was happening right in front of them. They were texting and walked into a pole. They were chatting and missed the road sign. They were watching tv while dinner burned the house down.

What is God trying to tell you? Is he warning you of danger like he did through Noah? Has he sent angels to rescue you like he did for Lot’s family?

Are you looking up?


Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Luke 17:20-21 NIV

Hidden Messages

I started out with nothing and still have most of it left. ~Anonymous

I like clever dialogue. Hiding messages in witticisms is the best way to know who’s really listening.

Chris Pratt, star of Jurassic World, recently received the Generation Award from MTV. His speech included nine pieces of advice for life to the younger generation. He tells his young listeners to believe in God, to pray, to be kind, that they have a soul. He mixes in a few humorous ideas to keep their attention.

In the middle of the speech, he gives advice on how to give medicine to a dog: hide it wrapped in hamburger. That’s exactly what Chris Pratt did.

In Luke 16, Jesus tells some stories to the Pharisees. One of them is about a rich man who dies and goes to Hell.

The rich man looks into Heaven and sees a beggar he once knew standing beside Father Abraham. The rich man then becomes a beggar himself and asks if Lazarus, the former beggar, can go to the rich man’s brothers and warn them to change their ways.

Abraham answers that even if someone raises from the dead, his brothers will not believe.

And not too long later, Jesus raises from the dead and many of his brothers- mainly the Pharisees – don’t believe it. But some do.

Jesus was clever in telling the truth. He was able to tell stories that gave hope to those who needed it and confused those who would have been offended.

Think about those in your life who don’t believe. How can you hide the medicine they need in some hamburger?


I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord. I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation. Psalm 40:9-10 ESV

Deaf or Just Hard-of-Hearing

None so deaf as those that will not hear. None so blind as those that will not see.
~Matthew Henry

I just spent a few days with some family members who are on the other side of the green field. You have to make sure they are looking at you when you speak . . . loudly. Otherwise, you won’t be heard.

I’ve been very public about my own hearing issues. Perhaps I’m not so far away from that side of the field myself.

Jesus encountered some hard-of-hearing people, too.

In Luke 14:35, Jesus says, “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Then in 15:1, we find out who has the ears to hear.

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathered around to hear him.”

By now Jesus has a large following. His name is out there. He’s twittered, posted, and chatted for years and his platform is huge. 5,000 men show up for his luncheon. Women and children flock to meet him and call him blessed.

So why is it that the ones listening aren’t the leaders of the community? Why don’t they have ears to hear?

Because Jesus says some hard things.

He says that everyone is invited into the kingdom. Every sheep is brought safely into the fold. Every brother is loved, every sinner forgiven, every child wanted.

He treats everyone the same.

She sits alone at the church potluck, surrounded by groups of laughing people who have more in common with each other than with her.

He stands alone at the conference, his body contorted with spasms but his mind free and frisky.

She sits, eyes lowered, with her ratty-tattered children waiting for your hand-out.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-2 NIV

Are you listening to Jesus or are you muttering about the welfare check, the useless riff-raff, the immigrant?

Jesus tells his listeners three stories of lost things being found.

‘But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” Luke 15:32 NIV

Can you hear him? Do you have ears to hear?


Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24 NIV

No More Excuses

He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else. ~Benjamin Franklin

He made excuses as long as I knew him. A Vietnam Vet, he battled demons all his adult life. Alcohol abuse, domestic violence, shame, grief,  and sorrow became his best friends. He knew there was something better, but better was harder and he just didn’t have any fight left.

He read the Bible, knew the right answers, but couldn’t bring himself to believe that they were the answers for him. He was beyond salvation.

Do you know someone like my friend?

“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ Luke 14:18 NIV

They give their life to business. They need to work. There are bills to pay, appearances to keep up. The kids need braces, dance classes, college. The car needs maintaining, the house repainting, and the face uplifting. They never see the kids’ teeth, enjoy the car ride, or rest in the house.

The claims of business usurp the claims of God on their life.

“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Luke 14:19 NIV

They need the latest technology, the best clothes, the flashiest trips. They’re always on the run, waving their hellos and goodbyes at the same time. Their life is lived in Instagram pixels and Snap Chat comebacks.

They are consumed by the novelty of their new possessions, and God gets crowded out.

“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ Luke 14:20 NIV

They meet for family dinners every week, only vacation with relatives, and cousin camp is a summer must. Their friends’ list has two surnames. Their contacts list reads like a lineage from western European royalty. And their street culminates in a family cul-de-sac.

Their earthly family takes precedence and God the Father becomes another ancestor hanging on the wall.

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” Luke 14:23-24 NIV

My friend was invited to the feast, but in the end he thought the grace period had run out. He never accepted, never tasted, never enjoyed.

Don’t make excuses.

It’s time to accept.


“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” John 14:1-4 NIV

The Fig Tree

Everyone grows, but not everyone matures. ~Kemi Sogunle

Soon after we moved to North Carolina, I bought fruit trees. We were the owners of a small section of an old farm, and I was anxious to remind it of its purpose.

I planted several apple and pear trees, a peach, a plum, and a fig tree. The fig tree died.

My husband didn’t like weed eating around all of these trees. In a moment of Jesus- imitation, I think the preacher cursed the fig tree.

In Luke 13, the people are trying to establish their safety in God’s kingdom based on their ancestry. Jesus offers them little hope. He tells the story of a fig tree.

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” LK 13:6-9

The fig tree teaches us that we get a second chance, but nothing which only takes will survive, and there will be a limit to the second chances.

Is your trunk any stronger for the passing years? Do you open your Bible on Sundays but leave it resting on your bedside table every other day?

Maybe Spirit has been blowing spring zephyrs through your branches, but you’ve refused to bend in the breeze. Have you ignored the prodding to talk to the homeless man, invite your neighbor to dinner, or visit the nursing home?

Are your figs tough and pithy, unfit to eat? Has bitterness replaced your joy, hatred your love?

Take heart. There is hope. The gardener in Jesus’s story believes the fig tree can flourish with a little tender attention.

And Jesus believes it’s not too late for you.


See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:1-3 NIV

The Unforgivable Sin

Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not. ~C.S. Lewis

I sat across from a middle-aged woman, a mother of seven beautiful children. A woman who knew the pain of unrequited love. She spoke of her mother.

“She told me many days, ‘I never should have had you. I should have had an abortion.'”

It haunts me, this thought that a child should know her mother would rather kill her than keep her.

Have you lost love?

Your heart leaps in your throat every time the phone rings, but the prodigal child refuses to call. There are no cards on Mother’s Day, no surprise visits pulling into the drive. Instead, there is silence that steals into quiet moments like gun shot and cannon fire.

Your eyes fill as you walk past your former-best friend’s house. You stand in line together waiting for the bus to take the children to school. You glance toward her, seeking acknowledgement, but the shoulder is turned. You shiver in the August heat.

We enter the world with soft hearts, beating the melody of love, harmonizing with the strains of joy and peace.

But at some point the aria fades into strains of discord. The lively tune becomes dark and foreboding. Dissonance plays on every instrument of your life, killing your love, mocking your peace and joy.

This is what Jesus knows.

The pain of betrayal, of neglect, of downright hatred by those you yearn to hold close . . . well, it’s unforgivable.

At least it feels that way.

But Jesus tells us there is only one unforgivable sin- denying that the Holy Spirit is from God. Confronting good and calling it evil.

And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Luke 12:10 ESV

It isn’t the prodigal saying you aren’t his mother. It isn’t the friend saying you never were friends. It isn’t even the mother saying she wishes you were dead.

Jesus knows those pains; he feels the heartache and distress.

And he forgives.

But the one who says Jesus has no power to forgive- he will not be forgiven.

Will you forgive? Won’t you sing the sweet refrain that God is Love?


My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God. 1 John 4:7-10 MSG

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