Lenten Thoughts: Chosen

chosen.jpg

I wasn’t picked for spelling bee teams or kick ball teams. So it was a very exciting thing when I moved to a new town just as I entered high school and found a group of young people who seemed to want me. I attended a retreat with the youth group from church, and while there was plenty of fun, there was also enough of the gospel presented that my heart was strangely moved. I heard the message I had been chosen by the one who loved me best.

In the Word there are many references to our being chosen. I found this one while thumbing through Isaiah the other day: “But as for you, Israel my servant, Jacob my chosen one, descended from Abraham my friend, I have called you back from the ends of the earth, saying, ‘You are my servant.’ For I have chosen you and will not throw you away(Isaiah 41:8-9, NLT).”

chosen1.png

Have you ever felt thrown away? What gets thrown away? Things that are useless, broken, spent. Things that are no longer needed. Things that are no longer wanted. We throw things away every day. Have you ever thrown away a person? Have you ever felt thrown away? Maybe you’re one of the blessed ones who has no clue what it would be like to be thrown away. But there are people walking through life with a far greater experience of being trashed than chosen.

chosen2.jpg

What kind of difference would it make in our interactions if we looked at and treated people like they were chosen by God? I’m not suggesting a short course in evangelism. I am suggesting we consider the annoying checker at Walmart, the pain in the neck co-worker who just took credit for your idea, the jerk weaving in and out of traffic. The person you can’t forgive. See them as chosen. Even the person who left you—they’re chosen.

Paul knew what it was like to be distrusted and surrounded by people who would rather throw him out than work with him. He had been murdering believers in God’s name. Murdering. Leaving families without fathers, or mothers. And then he experienced God’s grace and his own chosen-ness on his way to Damascus. How could God use him? Surely, his being chosen was a mistake. Nobody, including Paul, could believe God would use him after what he did; after the life he lived. Throw him out!

chosen4.jpg

But Paul penned these words: 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes (Ephesians 1:4, NLT).

We’ve been picked for God’s team. You may have made some pathetic choices, the hounds of shame may be nipping at your heels. I know what that feels like, but I also know that I am his servant and he will not throw me away. Not because I’m broken or because others might label me as trash, but because he loves me. His Word is true: he loved us before he even made the world.

He wants us on his team. How cool is that?

chosen3.jpg

 

 

Lenten Thoughts: Tantrums

tantrum.jpg

On a quick trip to Walmart recently, I realized I come out with much more than bags of food and necessities. I often come away with fodder for reflections. On my last trip, my attention was grabbed by a three year old child throwing a “fall on the floor, bloody scream” tantrum. The only person whose attention she didn’t seem to grab was her mother.

Where do tantrums come from? Typically, they seem to be about not getting my way or not getting the attention I think I need. Pondering the recent tantrum I observed, reminded me of a time when I was part of a church mixed bowling league.

One night a couple on our team was unable to get a sitter and had to bring their daughter with them. She was about two years old. As the evening wore on, her parents became more and more involved in their game and less aware of her. Her behavior escalated as she worked to get their attention. At first they scolded her, finally she got a swat on her bottom. Her wails of “pain” could be heard by everyone in the alley. Finally, the mom pulled the little girl into her lap and rocked her to comfort. The girl quieted and was asleep within just a few moments.

What can bring on a tantrum? When things don’t go my way. One of my grandson’s favorite questions is “Why?” Why can’t I have candy all day? Why can’t I play outside in my slippers? Why do I have to take a nap? Why do I have to pick up my toys? Why questions are often accompanied by little feet stomping, all pointing to things not going the way he wants.

tantrum1.jpg

How much drama is created in our lives when God doesn’t work the way we think he should? How many times do we question his wisdom, purpose, or plan? After a very dark time of questioning, my husband shared with me he learned to quit asking why. He felt God was reluctant to answer that question, but he always seemed to answer, “What’s next?” The difference is the distance between trust and tantrum.

Drama demonstrates a lack of trust.

Drama is the voice of one who thinks he knows better. It is the behavior of one who feels she needs more attention. The Good News is God knows our need better than we do. His plans and purpose, while not always understandable, are always for our good.

God doesn’t hand out acting awards, but he does promise to hold us in the palm of his hand, remember all our tears, and count the hairs on our heads. He can be trusted.

When we surrender our drama, we find his peace.
tantrum2.jpg

Lenten Thoughts: Home

home.jpg

Several years ago, my husband and I were in the market for a new place to live. We had only owned one home and we lost it when the restaurants my husband co-owned closed. It was a hard loss. We rented the house we lived in when we started that round of house shopping because both our daughters and all our grandchildren were living with us. They moved out on their own and we were lost in this very huge, and expensive house.

So, we found a really good realtor. She figured out our needs and likes. One day she took us to seven houses. I fell in love with one house and liked its location. Then I fell in love with one location and sort of liked the house. While we’re still struggling a bit with some things with the “loved” house, we sent her an email and told her that we thought it was the one.

As we pulled out of the driveway, I began thinking of colors for the rooms and where I’d put furniture. Nelson began research on propane. We imagined ourselves living in our new home. Was it a place where we could see ourselves growing old? The price was right, but how was the fit?

When we bought our first house (the one we lost), we bought it mostly because it was available with land contract, and it was only a block away from where we were living (an easy move), and two blocks from where I was working. We learned to live with the rest of it. It was a house, but never really became a home. We came and went so much from that place, it was more like a stopover than a dwelling place. This became very clear to me when I lost my jobs and was “stuck” being there for months before we eventually moved.

home1.jpg

I remember a devotion I read by John Henry Jowett many years ago where he spoke of our need to find our dwelling place, where we could be “at home.” He referenced 2 Corinthians 5 and compared birds that just flit in and out with those that nest and dwell.

A search of “dwelling place” led me to many references made to God’s dwelling place. Isaiah paints a difference image in chapter 32: “My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest (Isaiah 32:18, NIV).”

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m older, and getting more so every day, but I want to find a place where I feel like I land and rest. The house we were considering had a “lake” in the back yard, and Amish farms across the road in the front. I don’t know if it gets more peaceful than that.

The important thing, though, is not the address. The house could be in the middle of nowhere and not be a place of undisturbed rest. If a house is to truly be a dwelling place, I will have to be at rest in my heart and spirit. I will need to be at peace with my creator.

So my prayer became, if this was where he wanted us that he will lead us beside the still waters and make us lie down there.

home2.jpg

Lenten Thoughts: Last Words

Daddy.jpg

My dad died in August 1989. He had cancer of the bladder that metastasized to his lungs, kidneys, and finally the brain. In July, he had a seizure, and while his body kept functioning, my dad was gone. I came home while he was still in the hospital. I was sitting with Dad, giving Mom a break, when the fog in his brain lifted. He began speaking clearly and using familiar hand gestures and expressions. It was so good to see him. He started to make me a diagram on the tablet I was writing on. About thirty seconds into what he was explaining his writing and his speech began to slur and he was back in the fog.

In August we received a call from Mom. The hospice nurse had told her to gather the family. They didn’t know if he would make it through the day. It was the quickest trip from Kansas City to Columbus we ever made. That was Friday. Dad lingered until Wednesday. Each of us had our time by his bedside. We all said lots of things, but I don’t know what he heard. More than anything I said, what I wanted was just to hear him say he loved me, one more time.

last words 1.jpg

Last words. They hold such power and weight. Jesus knew that. As he was coming to the end of his time, he gathered the disciples close and gave them his undivided attention and teaching. As I thought through those lessons I’m thankful that Jesus last words to Peter weren’t about his betrayal, but an instruction to feed Jesus’ sheep.

Last words. Here’s the problem with them. Jesus knew when he was going to die. He had the opportunity to plan out those final meetings with the people who matter the most to him. That’s an advantage not too many of the rest of us have. Most of us have no clue what could happen in a day. This was driven home to me a couple weeks ago when the husband of one of our Curves members had a colonoscopy done and two weeks later he was gone.

So here’s the challenge for us. We have to learn to live as if all our words were our last words. As if all our lessons to our children were the last lessons we were going to give. Would it make a difference? Hopefully, there would be more love and grace. When asked if he knew he only had a short time to live if he would change anything, John Wesley replied that he would not, implying he was already living with a sense of the importance of each moment. Are we there yet? I know I’ve got room for improvement.

Recently, I read Ken Gire’s book, “Reflective Living.” In one chapter he discusses the Shema. He describes how important that was to the Jewish believer. It would be the first thing they said every morning and the last thing said every night. It is also the last thing they were to say as they died. If we could get a hold of this in our lives, perhaps it would truly help us to make sure we said everything we were supposed to say while we were living. “5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deut. 6:5, NIV).”

Living all out like that will make Jesus’ last words more real to us and help our words, first and last, count more now and in the end.

 

Lenten Thoughts: Soil

I don’t have a green thumb.

I have told people throughout my life who might be buying me plants: I need ones that thrive on blatant neglect. I was quite happy to find that someone planted bulbs and plants around my house that keep coming back year after year in spite of me.

franksnursery

So, you might see the irony like I do that my first real job as a teenager was at a nursery. If that alone doesn’t bring you a chuckle, let me add this: the store was Frank’s Nursery and Crafts. It only gets worse when you know I left there to go to work at McDonald’s.

Tina’s terrible trifecta: Plants, crafts, and food. Perhaps it was good to learn at a young age, I have no gifting in these areas.

gardenstore.jpg

People who knew plants and gardens would come to the Nursery and expect me to understand their plant related dilemmas. Why wouldn’t their impatients grow on the fully exposed side of their house where there was no shade? What kind of fertilizer should they use? How can they correct the Ph balance of their soil? I became adept at reading the plastic identification pics we put in plants that have planting and watering instructions. I also learned to read labels, and when I couldn’t find an answer, I found a manager.

The Nursery survived and thrived on people wanting to have beautiful and productive gardens. We sold soil, and we sold the stuff to make it better. Making sure the soil was ready to plant seeds or plants was essential for successful growth.

sower.jpg

Jesus must have counted on a few farmers and gardeners being in the crowd the day he told the Parable of the Sower. The key piece in this parable is the soil and its ability, or lack of ability, to receive the seed. We immediately catch the absurdity of expecting the seed to grow in soil that is not able to receive it or nourish its growth. A hard packed path, rampant weeds, hungry birds, rocks that block, all inhibit the soil’s ability to do its job.

We usually associate this parable with salvation, make it all about receiving the seed. Anyone who has planted a garden or tended a flowerbed knows the work is not done when the seed goes into the dirt. Plants need watered and weeds need pulled. Often the soil needs to be loosened up or aerated. Then as winter approaches fields, beds, and gardens must be prepared for the great work of rest.

I’ve heard people ask other believers, “How is it with your soul?” Today, I’m wondering, how is it with your soil?

soil.jpg

You’ll find the parable in Mark 4:1-9

Lenten Thoughts: Tattooed With Jesus

tattoo.jpg

Over the years both my daughters have tried to talk me into going with them and getting a tattoo. There’s something “special” about doing that, so I’m told. I know that there are biblical comments prohibiting tattooing, but that’s not why I haven’t gone. I am a wuss about pain, but that hasn’t been my deterrent, either. Bottom line: I can’t imagine anything that I want engraved on me for forever. The image of a wilted rose on an 86 year old woman’s body just doesn’t get me all jazzed up.

tattoo2.jpg

I do, however, want my life tattooed with Jesus. I want my laughter, my conversation, my touch, my service, my work, my prayers, everything that I am to immediately point to Jesus. As much as I want that, I know my life is far from consistent. My heart desperately seeks to live in a way pleasing to my Father, but my choices betray my lack of trust and my selfishness. I truly understand the struggle that Paul speaks about in Romans 7.

tattoo3.jpg

In my life I have known the absolute bowels of wretchedness. I know what it’s like to screw up so completely you lose all respect, wallow in shame, and fight to rebuild integrity. I’m thankful for grace that makes climbing out of that dark pit possible. I’m thankful the apostle Paul shows how to move from the struggle in Romans 7 into chapter 8: There is therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

tattoo4.jpg

So, if I ever got a tattoo it would be a grapevine bracelet (symbolizing that I am just a branch needing to stay connected to the vine). In the vine would be a turtle (a rich symbol and spiritual totem: slow down, stay steady) and a daisy (for me a symbol of hope and faithfulness). All three would serve as reminders to me to keep living, to keep being fruitful, to truly make every effort.

The only place they may ever be is in my heart, but hopefully they will be seen by those Jesus sends my way each day.

tattoo5.jpg

 

Lenten Thoughts: Naive

naive.jpg

On more than one occasion, I have been accused of being naïve, so I went and looked up the meaning.

According to dictionary.com:
1. having or showing unaffected simplicity of nature or absence of artificiality; unsophisticated; ingenuous.
2. having or showing a lack of experience, judgment, or information; credulous: She’s so naive she believes everything she reads. He has a very naive attitude toward politics.
3. having or marked by a simple, unaffectedly direct style reflecting little or no formal training or technique: valuable naive 19th-century American portrait paintings.
4. not having previously been the subject of a scientific experiment, as an animal.
I think I’m okay with that. Especially the part about not being used as a part of a scientific experiment.  But that wasn’t always the case.

naive1.jpg

Back in the mid-nineties, I decided to pursue my Doctor of Ministries degree. It seemed the logical thing to do. I applied to the denominational seminary of the church where I held my ordination. I completed the first seminar and was totally in love with being back in school again. I raced into the second course with all kinds of enthusiasm and anticipation.

naive2.jpg

Unfortunately, I ran headlong into a professor who rigidly held to a specific position and style of teaching. In his opinion, I wasn’t deep enough or reflective enough. I didn’t see things his way. I got the impression he wanted to fail me. I worked hard in the course, and tried to present my position and perspective. He told me if I hoped to advance in the program I would have to learn to “jump through the hoops” placed before me. I’m not a very good jumper, so I dropped out of the program.

naive3.jpg

As I have reflected on being naïve, I’ve changed my opinion. I began to see being the characteristic as not completely negative. Sealing the deal for me came when read Matthew 18. In that passage, it seemed to me, Jesus expected a certain level of naiveté from his followers. His response to the disciples when they argued about who was most important solidified this for me.

1At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-4, NIV)

I’d rather be simple than cynical, or arrogant. I’d rather be real than artificial (reminds me of Paul’s instruction in Romans 12:9 that their love was to be without hypocrisy). I want to be credulous. I want to be ready to believe and to trust. I especially want the kind of relationship with the creator of the universe who invites us to be so close to him that we can call him, “Daddy.”

naive4.jpg