Generosity

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I am challenged today to think about my giving. Facebook just reminded me that April is National Donate Life Month. Several years ago, one of my friends donated a kidney to her father. More recently, another friend donated one of his kidneys to his wife’s aunt. Talk about generosity!

Today, I probably won’t be donating anyone a kidney, unless I’m dead, and then everything gets donated. So what can or will I give? I can give a hug to the woman who just lost her husband. I can share a smile with the cashier who just doesn’t think anyone really notices her. I can send a card to that shut in who feels all alone. I can respond to the list of needs for a family that just lost everything in a fire.

Giving can cost all or nothing at all. When I thought about that I was reminded of the Macedonian church that gave to the offering Paul was gathering for the needy. They were experiencing severe trial and they gave beyond their ability to give. I went and looked the passage up and found this in verse 8: test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.

I had never noticed that before!

I am humbled today by the generosity of my friends. And I’m challenged. I don’t want to be found short when it comes to being generous. I want to be earnest and sincere. How about you?

Lenten Thoughts: He Knows Your Name

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I used to go to the coolest church. No, really I did. At that church, we had Blessings and Miracles. I know most churches have blessings and miracles, but our Blessings and Miracles were families. We even had a Gentile family. I remember one Sunday that Pastor pointed out that there was a pew full of Blessings and Miracles. What was really cool was being around these people left one truly with a sense of Blessings and Miracles. And the Gentiles really were.

Naming a child is huge responsibility. I remember the hours pouring over name books when I was pregnant. I wanted our children to have names they could grow into. I’ll admit, when I hear some of the names chosen these days, it makes me sad. It’s as if the only consideration is oddity and shock value.

Names are interesting in the Bible, too. I’m not sure I would have been happy if I was Jacob (supplanter or heel grabber) or Esau (red and hairy). Or imagine going through life as Jabez, whose name means pain. Thankfully, I haven’t heard of any Jezebels or Ahaz lately.

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How do you feel when someone calls out your name? I always knew when I was in trouble because my mother would use my middle name. My husband has names for me that only he uses. My immediate family and very close friends call me something special. When I am addressed that way something in my heart instantly softens. And nothing compares to one of the grandbabies running at me shouting, “Mema!”

In John 10:3, Jesus tells the crowd, “The gate keeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”

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The Father knows your name. He whispers it when you’re frightened. He calls to you, wanting to lead to the green pastures and calm streams. He shouts it when you’re headed toward trouble. He has a sweet, special name for you. Sometimes he will change your name, giving you a name you can grow into one that will glorify him.

Have you heard him call your name? Have you been listening?

Lenten Thoughts: Sweet Aroma or Stench?

 

 

 

 

 

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Be sensitive but always be sweet in the eyes of God.15For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 2:15, NIV).

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I used to work in a gas station convenience store. I always knew when it was 3:15 because a certain woman came to buy a cappuccino on her way to work and she wore a distinctive perfume. After spending a shift in a stale aired place catching her scent always made me smile.

Not every smell was quite as pleasant. I also knew when the vet students came in from the farms. I knew when the stoners were making a run for munchies. I knew when the newspaper delivery guy who was a chain smoker walked into the shop.

And don’t get me started on the bathrooms.

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Smells are incredibly powerful and can evoke all kinds of emotions. Experts tell us that before a child can ever really distinguish her mother’s face she knows her mother’s smell. My neighborhood was full of the smells of barbeque grilling this past weekend. All kinds of memories can be evoked by the smell of homemade bread or fresh from the oven chocolate chip cookies. Home sellers are encouraged to create very pleasant smells in their homes when prospective buyers are touring.

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People can be very sensitive to smells. It is considered selfish and inconsiderate in social settings for people to wear fragrances due to allergies and extreme sensitivities. What was once thought to be pleasant and appropriate can now result in asthma attacks. I love my husband’s aftershave, but I can’t convince him that less is better. He seems to be unable to smell a single spritz so he crosses a line into overkill and overpower.

Do our responses to the aromas of life have anything to do with our scripture from Paul? Yes.

Paul’s words came to mind the other night when I walked into my house after work and received an olfactory blast. My husband had marinated some salmon and had it baking in the oven. The smell caused instant salivation, and a hope for a delicious dinner. In the middle of our scrumptious meal, our younger daughter stopped by to drop something off. She immediately screwed up her nose, and complained about the awful fishy smell.

How could it be both?

Our lives as believers will leave an impression. For some, it will be pleasant. For others, however, it will be considered stench. We can be considerate to not overpower, but we cannot afford to allow political correctness or social convention to rob us or dilute the truth of who we are in Christ.

Be sensitive but always be sweet in the eyes of God.

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Lenten Thoughts: Suffering

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Several years ago I helped with a “Prayer Journey to the Cross” at church. Similar to the Stations of the Cross, participants move through Jesus’ final week on earth before his crucifixion. I was responsible for two stations, The Betrayal and The Garden of Gethsemane.

I partnered with an amazingly creative woman for the Garden Station. As soon as I knew the focus was suffering, I had an idea for the station. I called my friend and asked her if she could put together a video loop of pictures of suffering and tie it to music. When I got the CD from her, I was blown away. The images and the music made a powerful statement about the human experience of suffering.
I have known my share of disappointments. I’ve gone through some difficult times. I’ve grieved the loss of friends and family. Things have been tight financially, but we’ve never gone hungry or wondered where we’d sleep at night. I’ve never really suffered. Not like the people in those pictures. We lost our home when the restaurants failed and I lost my livelihood. We had two auctions and sold the lion’s share of our belongings, but we always had a place to live and way more stuff than we can use.

Suffering.

Life will always have struggles. And while I can identify certain struggles that will follow and impact me for the rest of my life—consequences of poor decisions—I can also several blessings in my life. I am married to an amazing man who blesses me every day. I have two daughters and three grandchildren who bring me immeasurable joy. I have the best friends in the world. I am privileged to serve and pastor a wonderful group of people. I’m reasonably healthy.

How will I use my life, with all its blessings, to ease some other person’s suffering?

At each of the stations there will be an item the participants will take away with them. When they are in the Garden they will receive a hand (a construction paper cutout). They will be invited to write the name of a person or group who is suffering on the hand and then ask God how they can be his hands to that person or group.

I know you don’t have the video. I know you can’t hear the music. But you can hear His voice. Whose suffering can you ease today? Will you let him write that name on your hands and in your heart?

 

 

Lenten Thoughts: Purpose

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For a while I thought I was depressed. Life changed drastically for me when I lost my job in 2008. In part, I think the trauma was due to the fact I found my identity in what I did. The challenges of the work gave me purpose. I felt vital and alive. Losing my job meant I lost my sense of purpose.

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I used to teach groups of people how to write their mission statements. We didn’t start with that. We would back up and talk about finding their passion in life and for life. When it came to putting that passion into a working purpose or mission statement, I would teach the difference between a goal (short term) and a mission statement (life-long driving force). A mission or purpose statement is something you can see devoting your whole life to. It is true now and will be true in twenty, thirty, even fifty years.

Reflecting on this, I wasn’t really depressed. I was just adrift and going nowhere because I had taken my eyes off the map. I thought without the job I wouldn’t be able to follow my purpose and mission. I forgot the job wasn’t the only vehicle to get me where I needed to be. I forgot that the whether I’m teaching or cleaning toilets, it is the purpose or mission God has for my life that matters and he will provide me with the opportunities I need. I forgot God is the one who gifts me and directs me to use those gifts.

I was reading about John the Baptist in Mark’s gospel. I don’t think there are many who would sign up for John’s job—especially if they knew how it was going to end for him. Yet, even in the briefest of ministries, John paved the way by preparing the people for the emergence of Jesus’ life-changing ministry.

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This reminds me of relief pitchers in baseball. These days few will pitch a whole game. That’s not their job. It’s not why they were hired. Some of those guys will only throw a few pitches and the next thing we see is the coach headed to the mound. Those couple of precisely placed pitches are what the reliever gets paid the big bucks for. It’s their purpose.

Now, dust off your imagination and try and picture your favorite baseball team has made it to the playoffs! And they did it not just on their bats, but on their pitching. But now that they’ve made it to the biggest games, the team’s relievers and closers have decided they want more playing time and they’ve threatened to not play at all if they don’t get the opportunity to pitch a whole game. How crazy is that? How dare they hold the game hostage for their whims?

The apostle Paul, in his discussion of gifts, makes this statement: “But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it (1 Corinthians 12:18, NLT).” Right there with the assurance we all have a part, we’re told that we are placed right where He wants us.

Perhaps that’s why we need to bloom where we’re planted—to trust God’s process, timing, and purpose.
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Lenten Thoughts: Rhythm

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Rhythm. I never spell that word right. Perhaps if I were a heart specialist spending my days examining and checking rhythms, or a professor of music, pounding out rhythms to students, I would find the word more natural to use and spell. As hard, though, as it is to wrap my brain around spelling it, it’s even harder for me to wrap my spirit around it.

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As I reflected upon rhythm, I was reminded of the movie, “Kate and Leopold.” In the movie a man from the past is transported to modern day. His presence changes the life of a marketing executive who is all push and drive. Late in the movie, when Kate finally believes who Leo is, she asks him what he misses from his time. He tells her he misses the pace and rhythm of life.

When Jesus looked out on the crowd, he was moved with compassion. He saw how horribly out of sync they were with the Father and he told them: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)

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I’m a pairs junkie. I love to watch great partners dance. I am easily sucked into watching pairs figure skating. I don’t think they televise nearly enough pairs/doubles tennis. I love to see how two become one. It’s as if they transcend anticipating the other’s moves and begin to beat as one. I think that’s what Jesus was inviting the people, inviting us, to do.

I remember a night, several years ago, I got home from work and I was spent. I had put in three twelve hour days in a row. I wanted to crash, but my then three year old grandson was here. I love him. He is the most fun thing on earth. His favorite thing to do was chase. We ran through the house like race cars. That night he was lapping me because I just didn’t have the energy to keep up. After his mommy picked him up, I sat down to type a devotional. I had written most of it earlier in the day. I felt good about being ahead. When I went to save what I typed, I hit “don’t save.” And just that quickly, it was all gone. I sat in my chair, staring at the blank computer screen in disbelief. I was so tired that I erased everything. I was totally spent, completely mentally and physically weary.

We can become just as weary spiritually by keeping a pace we were not designed for. Think about it. Back in the Garden, what did God and Adam do? They weren’t practicing for a marathon. They walked together. Enoch walked with God, and was no more. Jesus walked with the two on the Emmaus Road. It seems God’s pace is very different from our own. Then when we might expect God to walk, he ran. He ran out to meet the wayward Prodigal Son to welcome him home.

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Unforced rhythms of grace. I love that phrase. As I think about it, I am aware of the rhythmic ticking of the grandfather clock across the room. Its beat is so natural and reassuring. It’s very unlike the beat when I worked at Curves. To keep people working out at a healthy clip, the music has to be within a specific beat—fast. Some of the remakes of songs make me laugh, because those songs were never intended to be sung as fast as our beat requires. Think about “O Holy Night” or “Word of God Speak” at 180 beats per minute. Ludicrous. Ridiculous. Unnatural.

So is much of our living. The problem is this: sometimes we are called to a fast paced life. The demands require much of us. I would never presume to say we need to return to the pace of the Amish (though recently, the thought held some intrigue for me). I would, however, suggest that we need to check ourselves. Can we honestly say with Paul, “’For in him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28, NIV)”? That’s what Jesus was inviting us to. When we live life at our pace, we are out of sync with the Creator of life, and we will always feel out of step.

If we are tired of being tired, perhaps the solution is to find those unforced rhythms of grace and learn how they will work in our lives.

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Lenten Thoughts: Fear

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” ~Thoreau

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My daughter thought she wanted to be a marine biologist. When it came time for college, she chose a school with a great marine biology program in Florida. For all her excitement, you would have thought we birthed the next Jacques Cousteau. The excitement quickly faded during her Intro to Marine Biology course. The professor took the class to a lagoon to “get their feet wet.” Annie froze—literally. Tearfully and woefully, she returned to shore unable to complete the assignment. The reason for her freezing: she couldn’t see the bottom. The fear of what she could not see totally immobilized her. She ended up dropping the course, withdrawing from school, and after a short stay in Florida, returning home.

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Thinking of this I was reminded of Peter’s impetuous attempt at water-walking. He asked Jesus, and started out pretty confidently. It wasn’t until he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the waves that he went down.

What was that about? I believe it had a lot to do with focus and fear.

Fear is the iceberg that all too often sinks our ship. Generally, what we can see doesn’t immobilizes us. It’s everything underneath. The things that we can’t see. The things we don’t know. The things we can’t control because we don’t know what they are.

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I guess Annie got her fear of murky water quite honestly—from her mother. Nelson and I traveled to South Carolina after we married to visit my grandparents. On our way back we tent camped at Myrtle Beach. Nelson bought a two-person inflatable raft. Since he knew that I was afraid of creatures that could be lurking in the murky, he would pull me out from shore and while I drifted back in he would swim about.

The system was working great until a current caught the raft and I started heading for Miami. I was panicked. Nelson had swum so far out that he couldn’t hear my cries for help. When he finally realized what was happening, he swam as fast as he could to save me. As he arrived at the raft his feet hit the bottom. He stood up–in ankle deep water. The raft was floating over a sandbar. We still laugh about how silly I looked, and the irrationality of my fear.

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Perhaps that is why Paul was so clear in his teaching that as believers we walk by faith and not by sight (see 2 Corinthians 5:7). Life gets murky. The waves rise around us. If we don’t keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we’ll go under as easily as Peter did—even if we are only in ankle deep water.
What are you looking at when we are frozen by your fears? Not Jesus. So many of the stories about Jesus’ encounters were with average people addressing enormous fears and receiving unbelievable miracles.

What are you afraid of right now? Are you walking by faith or struggling with holding onto to what you can see? If you’re going to get out of the boat, keep your eyes on Jesus. If the water is murky and you can’t see what’s there, let your faith lead your next step.

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