The Widening Sea

Every particular in nature, a leaf, a drop, a crystal, a moment of time is related to the whole, and partakes of the perfection of the whole. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

My son has several artist friends. They go to galleries and visit art districts in other cities. Amos gets frustrated because they walk slowly through each exhibit hall until they reach the end.

He would rather walk quickly and then return to the parts he liked and spend time in those.

I don’t know much about art. But, like Amos, I do know when I enjoy a picture or sculpture.

I’ll stand or sit in front of a particularly great work – in my opinion – for half an hour or more.

Several years ago, while visiting the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee, I experienced one of those stop and stare moments. It was an oil painting called Widening Sea by Frederick Judd Waugh.

No matter which way I looked, the sea appeared to be coming at me. Light danced. Waves washed. Clouds scattered.

Sometimes I think of life in oceanic moments: marrying, birthing sons, the first house.

But life swims in all the moments between the waves.

Relaxing under a hot shower. Twisting a perfect peach off its stone. Sharing laughter with a friend. Weeping with another. Watching the sunset. Smelling fresh bread on a cold winter’s evening.

Are you hurrying through the gallery to stare at the moments you think are best?

Or are you taking the time to experience each masterpiece?


When times are good, be happy;
    but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
    as well as the other. Ecclesiastes 7:14 NIV

Who Is My Enemy?

When we can see the image of God where we don’t want to see the image of God, then we see with eyes not our own. ~Richard Rohr

God said love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.

I’m confident in my ability to love my neighbors. They’re good people who mow their grass, play with their kids, and only play loud music on New Year’s Eve.

A scribe asked how much of his neighborhood’s loud music he had to endure. Jesus answered with the story of the Good Samaritan.

But he didn’t stop there. Jesus also told us to love and pray for our enemies.

America has enemies. Terrorists who want to rid us from the earth only because we are Americans. But mostly we only have neighbors. We live in a safe place, surrounded by good people.

I think a better question for our insulated American lives is who is my enemy?

Is my “enemy” the one who lives her life in direct disobedience to God, flashing her promiscuous lifestyle in my face? Do I wrinkle my nose when I talk about her?

Perhaps my enemy is a politician who votes for federal abortion clinics. Or convenience store owners who push gambling hot spots. Maybe my enemy leads the education system that says all children need gender training.

Possibly my enemy is a high ranking officer who gets away with sexual harassment. Or a professor who practices racial discrimination. Or a wealthy family that enters college unfairly.

What if one of these enemies came to church on Sunday? Would I sit beside them, clasp their hand in mine, and pray together?

Would I clean their wounds, pay for their lunch?

Who is my enemy, Lord?

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:19-21 ESV

What Does Your Seal Say?

Scalded cats fear even cold water. ~Thomas Fuller

Our church received a business letter from a seal company. They make the little gold stickers that identify the real thing. Annual lotteries, book clubs, and magazines use these stickers, or seals, on their letters. It shows that this is real, important, authentic.

The seal company wanted us to purchase and distribute seals to our members so they  can feel proud of themselves, of our church, of what we have accomplished. We can post publicity shots of our seals and get people to come to our special church.

Seriously?

How is a seal going to promote our church? It’s the people in our church who are going to do the promoting – positively and negatively.

Is this a church that welcomes convicts, prostitutes, homosexuals, drug addicts, embezzlers, and bigots with forgiveness and guidance? Does this church hug the rich man, the homeless man, and the mentally ill man exactly the same? Does my church reach out in service to the elderly, the handicapped, the divorcee, the orphan, and the poor?

There is only one seal that will show that our church has a proven record of success.

Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 NIV

The media does not often favorably portray Christians, but in reality, in a country largely populated with Christians, where churches can be found in every city, town, and village, their perception probably comes from experience.

So I ask you: What is your church doing to show the seal of approval?

Are you known for your good works, compassion, and love? I’m not talking about how many shoe boxes you pack. I’m not talking about how many children attend your concerts and programs. I’m not even talking about how many dinners you have taken to the domestic abuse shelter.

How many people have you touched in a healing way?

Because only when people find healing will they ever take time to look at your seal.


Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 1 John 4:7 ESV

Complete

Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did. ~Newt Gingrich

Sunday was a challenging day for us. My husband and I have made a difficult decision. We are leaving full-time, paid ministry in order to move back home near our parents.

Last fall and winter, our parents struggled with several major health issues. I spent a couple of months there taking care of things. My husband felt helpless so far away from his parents.

Now they are doing much better, but we are afraid it was a warning. It is time to go home.

We don’t have another job that we are going to. The plan is to open a Christian business where we can minister among the people.

Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.” Colossians 4:17 NIV

Some say we are courageous to step out in such faith. Others say it is true love to be so devoted to our families.

I say it is another step in completing the ministry God has called us to.

Nearly thirty years ago, we started ministering to people from a variety of backgrounds. As time went on, we discovered God also gifted us with perseverance and tenacity. Now we are stepping deeper into the waters of diversity.

It will take devotion. Commitment. Faithfulness. Hard work.

But more than anything . . . it will take God.

What has God called you to do?

Are you still working toward the goal?

Will you complete it?

Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 2 Corinthians 8:11 NIV

Dress Yourselves

The kind of young woman who can be a terrific torchbearer has high standards all the time, not just in her prom dress, but every, ordinary day. ~Margaret D. Nadauld

It’s here again: Prom Time.

My social media feed started highlighting girls in dresses in late-March and it will continue until mid-May.

I attended my high school proms, but that was before the glitz and glamour of the 21st century. Back in the “Old Days” we painted our own nails, had our moms help with our hair, and dresses came from the JC Penny Catalog.

Now American teenagers spend lots of their parents’ money on fashion and finishing touches.

Because it’s a very important dance.

Paul has his own fashion advice in Colossians 3:12-14 (NIV):

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Can you imagine it?

You rise in the morning to brush your teeth with compassion and kindness. You slip humility over your head and fix your hair with the brush of gentleness. The diamond of patience glitters around your neck. Both legs slide into forgiveness and your shoes are sturdy for bearing with each other’s burdens.

You put on your overcoat of love and head out the door with your friends in unity.

You’re glamorous, you’re beautiful, you’re the queen of the ball.

Dressed like that you’ll dance all night.

Because it’s the most important event of your life.

It is . . . Life in Christ.

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:18 ESV

Dead or Alive

There are only three events in a man’s life; birth, life, and death; he is not conscious of being born, he dies in pain, and he forgets to live. ~Jean de la Bruyere

Death is so final. No more conversations, no more laughter, no more birthday parties, cake, or candles.

Death separates, isolates, penetrates.

Death brings tears, anger, depression, and great, great sadness.

I’ve lost count of the number of deaths I’ve witnessed in the last year.

Everyone dies.

But not everyone lives.

Continue reading “Dead or Alive”

In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart. ~Mahatma Gandhi

She tipped her head to the side like a curious dog. She held my hands a little longer and then sat back.

“You’re the only person I’ve ever prayed with that didn’t end, ‘in Jesus’ name, amen.'”

I knew she wanted an explanation. I didn’t really have one.

Continue reading “In Jesus’ Name, Amen”

The If of Failure

A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying. ~B. F. Skinner

My older son is graduating from college soon. He’s thrilled, excited, nauseated, and scared.

Because now that all the hard work, late nights, and uncertainty are over, he still has no job, isn’t sure what the future holds.

I so understand.

I graduated from college with an Education degree. We moved to an area that was instituting all-day Kindergarten. My specialization was Early Childhood Education, so everything looked promising.

Only I didn’t get a job for over a year.

That isn’t quite true. I actually had two jobs. I worked hard as a substitute teacher during the day and as a teacher and diagnostician at Sylvan Learning Center in the evenings and on the weekends.

In Mark 9, Jesus’s disciples tried to heal a boy possessed by a demon. Nothing they did worked. When Jesus came along, the boy’s father begged Jesus to help if there was anything at all that could be done.

IF?

Jesus shook his head, sighed, and healed the boy.

What were we doing wrong, the disciples questioned.

They had the degree, some experience, even a bit of a reputation. They worked really hard, but it wasn’t enough. They felt like failures.

We might look at that and think, if Jesus’s inner circle couldn’t cut it, why am I even trying?

But the disciples turned to Jesus- exactly where they needed to turn -and he led them farther along the path.

What looked like failure was only an answer to IF.

If you try and fail, try again.

Keep on praying. Keep on fasting. Keep on turning to the one with the answers.

It doesn’t take away the fear and nausea, but it does lead you in the right direction.

Far from failure.

5In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:5-7 NIV

Pruning Shears

As soon as a redwood is cut down or burned, it sends up a crowd of eager, hopeful shoots, which, if allowed to grow, would in a few decades attain a height of a hundred feet, and the strongest of them would finally become giants as great as the original tree. ~John Muir

“What have you done?!”

Matt jumped out of the car. We had just bought our first house. 

The small front porch was hidden behind overgrown box hedges and red leaf photinia.  When Matt headed to work that morning, I headed to the bushes. By the time Matt returned, they were pruned down to bare branches.

That was in November.

It was a long winter of sideways glances and raised eyebrows. Matt’s head shook as much as the bare branches in the winter wind.

But the next spring new leaves and healthy growth appeared.

Pruning looks painful- even kind of stupid. Branches with flowers or fruit are cut off. Lovely leaves are hacked away, strewn across the lawn by children building forts.

But pruning is necessary.

It’s the same in our lives.

I teach Bible class. I volunteer at the nursing home. I join Bible studies, serve on church committees, and lead community service projects. I write books, teach in China, and try to maintain my home.

All are worthwhile, looking like flavorful fruit ripening on my branches.

The truth is . . . I need to be pruned.

But what needs to go?

For me it’s easier to know what doesn’t need to go. What do I believe would disappoint God if I pruned it out of my life?

I’m sure God has called me to write, to teach in China, and to serve my church family. I’m equally sure that God doesn’t care how high the grass is, and since I don’t live in a neighborhood, no one else does either. If the living room doesn’t get painted in a weekend, who cares?

What about you? Too many evenings at the soccer pitch, or weekends at the theater, or hours at the office? Is there someone else who can step into your role and let you focus on the greater things?

What is God trying to prune out of your life?

“Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:42b NIV

Fire

Persevere in virtue and diligence. ~Plautus

There are fifteen minutes between Bible study and worship time at our church. We hug and kiss, catch up on news, smile at children, visit the restroom, and find a seat. It’s loud and sometimes chaotic.

The Sunday before Christmas can be especially busy as excited children skip down the aisle to their parents.

This past Christmas season was no different.

As we began the first song a strange odor caught my attention. I wasn’t the only one.

People started looking around, trying to keep their eyes on the words of the hymn, but there was definitely something amiss.

After the second song, my husband stood up for announcements.

“Yes, you smell smoke. There was a fire in the kitchen, but I put it out.”

While we were visiting and laughing, the room next door was on fire. Smoke and flames raced across the stove and up the wall.

Thankfully, Matt saw it in time and grabbed an extinguisher.

Matt was diligent. He was watching, and he was prepared.

Do you know what your children are seeing on the internet? Are you diligent to check their history, their chat rooms, their pants’ pockets? Is your nose in the air when they pass by with their friends and their phones?

Are you watching over your elderly neighbor? Do you notice when the garbage can doesn’t make it to the curb or the newspaper goes untouched in the driveway?

What about on the job? Has a coworker been asking questions about your marriage and how you cope with expectations and falling out of love? Do you have an answer ready, a prayer to offer?

Be diligent to watch for fires in your life.

And be prepared to fight them.

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. 1 Peter 3:13-17 ESV