Sunday, April 15, 2018

My Embarrassing Audition

Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”  “No, Lord,” she said.  And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” John 8:10-11
I have had many embarrassing moments in my life- some I am not ready to talk about and others I am way too open about -mention lactose intolerance and you will get an earful.

Looking back on my high school years- one stands out.  I was reminded recently of my embarrassing audition as a just turned 16 year old to play the adulterous woman in a professional production of the Passion Play.  The Passion Play was a re-enactment of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. I had been cast the year before as a shepherd girl and I was pretty great at herding sheep and shouting “Hosanna” or “Crucify Him”during my scenes. Mid season the actress playing the adulterous woman left the show, so the director held an open audition. My friend Sandy, a beautiful curvy junior in high school with perfect 80’s hair was auditioning, though as a sophomore, I had the figure of a skinny middle school boy and flat hair that did not scream stylish, oblivious to the concept of typecasting, I decided to audition. Getting the part would have doubled my pay, plus it wasn’t a hard role. All I had to do was scream, cry a little and look around and say “No one, my Lord.” No problem, I thought.

The time for the audition came. Sandy’s audition went perfectly. She screamed loudly while being roughly dragged to Jesus. She huddled crying softly on the ground by his feet. The priests proclaimed, “This woman was caught in adultery, the law says we must stone her.” Jesus looked each of the accusers in the eye and said, “If any of you are without sin, let him be the first to cast a stone.” Each of the priests and accusers dropped their stones and slowly began to slink away. Jesus then looked her in the eye, and gently asked, “Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, my lord.” “Neither do I accuse you, go and sin no more.” Jesus answered. End scene.

It now was time for my audition- I was ready. Everything went perfectly till the actor playing Jesus looked my accusers in the eye and said, “If any of you are without sin, let him cast the first stone;” then he ad-libbed, “You should be ashamed of yourselves, this woman is not even in High school”. I was mortified. First of all, that wasn’t in the script and most importantly, I was in High school! The director had us redo the scene to give me a fair audition but it was too late. It was even more embarrassing the second time.  I knew what people thought of me.   I knew I didn't have a chance.

Every time I would read this story in the Bible, I would hear "This woman is not even in Highschool." I finally got past my embarrassing audition memories of this story by focusing on Jesus amazing sacrificial love for this woman and all of us. When Jesus got down in the dust and told her “neither do I accuse you,” he made this statement as one who was without sin.
I realized by pardoning this one woman, He was condemning himself.
Jesus made the choice to bear the consequences of her sin. For Jesus, it was personal. That woman didn’t realize the price Jesus would pay for her pardon. She and everyone watching the accusers drop their stones probably thought this was a legal and philosophical question. They were impressed with Jesus’ ability to turn the question back on the accusers.

Two thousand years ago, every person that witnessed this woman being accused of adultery knew that the legal consequence of adultery was death. They didn’t realize Jesus had come to fulfill the law. The woman and the man she had been caught with were to be stoned according to the law. (On a side note, this situation was a little sketch because only the woman was brought to Jesus).

Long before he lifted her out of the dirt and shame, he knew that he would pay the ultimate cost for her selfishness,her choice to please herself and her lover instead of choosing to please God, yet he still chose to intercede and to save her. Jesus has done the same for all of us, regardless of the mistakes, selfish choices and shameful decisions we have made, Jesus reaches down into the dust to lift us up and ask us “Where are your accusers?” “Neither do I accuse you. Go and sin no more.”

Do you feel guilty or ashamed of the choices you have made? Take a minute to imagine yourself accused and caught red-handed in the biggest mistake you have ever made. Now imagine Jesus choosing to accept the consequences, the suffering and to pay the price for your guilt. It is finished. You are forgiven. Jesus chose to pay the debt long before you fell at his feet. 

You are free. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Put Your Phone Down and Pray

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33

"Put your phone down and pray." I knew it was God speaking to me, just like I know my son's voice even if a dozen kids were saying "Mom" at the same time or I know my husband's sneeze even if he is on the other side of a grocery store. I just knew it.  

Hearing God is one of those sketchy subjects that can bring up images of charlatans dressed in church robes proclaiming "God told me....and give money"  I haven't always known if God was talking to me. I struggled with hearing and knowing God's voice before I made it a priority to read and listen to the entire Bible.  I personally love reading the Bible in chronological order because reading the prophets in context makes it easier to understand.  For me discerning God's voice has gotten easier because I have read the entire Bible more times than I can count.  I know God's voice as the Author and finisher of our faith just as I can pick out Jeff Kinney's style of writing or know Dr. Suess' voice in a children's book. 

God's voice always aligns with his heart and his Word. I knew "Put down your phone and pray" was a modern version of a verse I had read many times before.  First Thessalonians 5:17 says "Never stop praying".  This is of those verses I would have loved memorizing as a kid.  It is short and sweet. It is even shorter in other Bible translations.  The entire NIV verse is "pray continually."  It is easy to read but hard to do.

"Put down your phone and pray" was a command, maybe not on the level of the Ten Commandments but for me it was just as significant. I have come to realize if the God of this Universe, the Creator of Heaven and Earth speaks to me I need to drop everything and be obedient. 

I heard God say this to me while I had a few minutes of solitude between picking up my son from school and taking him to tennis practice.  This was "my time" that I would spend on my phone scheduling activities, researching health stuff, checking social media and texting my friends. All these things are good ways to spend my free time but I was avoiding what I knew God had called me to do. 

I realized I was looking to my phone to fill my mind and my calendar, to answer my questions and meet my needs.  My phone had become a crutch that kept me from depending on God and tied me to my own resources, knowledge and time. 

Rather than praying I was researching, 
rather than praying I was chatting, 
rather than praying I was escaping. 

There is nothing wrong with researching, chatting or even escaping but I was avoiding praying for the people God had put around me. I was resisting prayer because it felt vague and weak even though I know it is not. I filled my mind and my time with concrete things, facts and information instead of seeking God's perspective and power in the situation.  Prayer is not mutually exclusive. Just because God has called me to pray doesn't mean I can't do the other stuff. Logically, it must be possible to research and pray, chat and pray and even escape and pray or 1st Thessalonians 5:17 wouldn't tell us to "Never stop praying."  Prayer should be like breathing. Prayer is the foundation that everything else is built on. 

My favorite scripture passage is found in Matthew 6:25-33. It points out if you make the kingdom of God and His righteousness a priority then all the other things you need like food and clothes will be given to you.  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your lifee ?
28“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." 

This week I am turning "my time" into prayer time.  Rather than seeking first to get my friends' opinions or see their status updates, researching 50 sites for the best deal or discovering a new health and diet tip, I am going to put down my phone and pray.  I will pray for God to guide my research, for God to lead my friends to truth and help us all not worry, for God to provide all my friends and I need, for God to heal and guide their Doctors to truth, for God to lead our government and protect us. 

If God has told you something or shown you truth, why wouldn't you treat it with honor and respect and obey His word?   Do you struggle with worry?

Do you find it hard to pray continually?    What is your biggest distraction? 

Want to join me in putting down the phone and praying?  Let me know how it goes. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Plan is Salmon

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. 
Proverbs 16:9

"What's for dinner?" my people asked. It was a little after five and the natives were getting restless. 
"The plan is salmon," I proclaimed
"We don't want salmon," they exclaimed. "We want pizza."

The one who works so hard every day explained he had already had fish that week.  I didn't argue -  maybe I didn't really want to cook anyway.

But the salmon is coming. It is already defrosted in the fridge. The plan hasn't changed even though they are eating pizza. It only appears that it has. The plan is still salmon. 

I bought it for my family because it is good for us, full of healthy fats, protein and other nutrients.  My plan for them to have the salmon was because it was beneficial for them and my desire hasn't changed.  I serve it with sushi rice and sauteed zucchini.  I have assembled all the ingredients.  It is always a delicious dinner and way better than pizza. 

As I was cleaning up the kitchen tonight, which after ordering pizza is a breeze, I wondered how much of our life is like my "Plan for Salmon."   God plans our steps, assembles all the ingredients and tells us His will for our lives; even if we go in an opposite direction, His plans have not changed.  

His plans for Jonah didn't change even though Jonah got on a boat heading to Tarsish.  Jonah 3:1-2
His plan for Joseph didn't change even though his brothers sold him as a slave. Genesis 50:20
His plan of salvation doesn't change even if someone rejects it. John 12:44-48
His plan to bless us doesn't change even if we are living with the consequences of poor decisions. Jeremiah 29:11-13

My kids might get a couple more meals without salmon- but it will happen. I know the future because I am the cook.   In the same way,  God knows the future because He is the Master Chef. Rather than wasting our energy resisting his plans, let's trust that what he plans for us is good and lovely. 

Romans 12:2 encourages us that God's will is good, pleasing and perfect.  It is time to make that jump and trust Him completely in every part of your life.  

Thinking back on your life, have their been times that you have let go of your plans to follow God's will?  

Is their something that you need to let go of to fully embrace God's will? 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

A Season For Everything

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: Eccl 3:1

Everything is cold here.  Lakes and ponds are covered by sheets of ice.  Cars take forever to heat up in the morning, plants have gone dormant and I actually started wearing a coat when I go outside. A couple inches of snow and we will have a Winter Wonderland. It is cold. Very, very cold!

Cold weather brings out my desire to roast turkeys, bake potatoes, and make pies. I am basically looking for any reason to use the oven as an extra heat source.  My husband loves the cookies and pies. I think he looks forward to these cold induced domestic urges all year long.  Unfortunately for him, my urge to bake is a brief season that lasts as long as a cold snap in the South.  Instead of calling this time of year, Winter;  I propose naming it, Baking Season.  What do you think?  Would you name this time of year "Netflix Season" or "Football Season"?

We all go through seasons that aren't exactly determined by the calendar or even the weather.
Solomon wrote about this in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 
 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

As I look back on last year, it ended with a season of mourning for my dear friend Joyce but was filled with rejoicing with my brother in the birth of his son. God restored friendships that had been lost for years and brought new friends into my life. It has been a year focused on studying blessings but as a result it has made the power of demeaning people so much more obvious.  It was a year of determined blogging, after only sporadically blogging in the past, I was determined to faithfully write my blog every week. 

Looking forward into 2018, I am challenged to finish my fourth book. I have been researching and studying blessings for the past two years.  This is a loaded topic that has a lot of baggage from the prosperity gospel to being used in a demeaning way like, "God bless her pea pickin' heart." To focus on my book, I am taking my new friend Sue's advice to cut back on my weekly blogging.  Hopefully, I'll get a couple of blogs written over the year to let you know what I am working on and learning but this year is going to be "Blessing Book Season." I would appreciate your prayers and I am so excited about all that God has in store this year.  

What season did you find yourself in last year? Is there something you need to let go of or cut back on to fully embrace the next season?  Is God calling you into something new for next year?  

Sunday, December 24, 2017

What Makes a Gift?

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23-24

Is a gift determined by the heart of the giver or the acceptance of the recipient? Our church often receives requests for help at Christmastime and I signed up to help a family who had asked for help. The lady I spoke with requested Christmas presents for her two grand kids ages 4 and 5.  They didn't want much and I was happy to help make their Christmas special.

Her humble apartment was decked out in anticipation of Christmas - with a cute "Santa Stop Here" sign that stood out among the emptiness of the other doors. A petite blond grandmother with the wrinkles and voice of someone who started smoking young met my son and me and invited us in. She quickly hid her pipe in the other room as we walked into her house.  In the apartment was a small tree with one present under it and Home Alone was playing on TV.

She was grateful for the gifts and explained that she suffered back pain from an accident in her teens. Her daughter and kids weren't there but I am hopeful that they will be blessed.  I gave her a hug and told her I would be praying for her, her daughter and her kids. After I left I had take off my sweater because the smell of smoke that wasn't tobacco was overwhelming.

On my drive home,  I struggled with feeling like a sucker.  To counteract my doubting heart, I had to dedicate all the gifts to God, hoping that the kids would get them and love them but realizing this wasn't about two kids getting a Buzz Lightyear and Imaginex toy but a lesson in God's great love for us.  I have no control over that Grandma giving those toys to her grand kids. She could easily take them back to the store and buy alcohol or use them to barter for drugs. I intended to bless their family but it is up to them if they accepted the blessing and use it for good.  Isn't that the story of God's love for all humanity. He gave his chosen people the law and his love as a blessing and they rejected it. He sent Jesus to share His love with the whole world.  Even though Jesus was the perfect gift and just what everyone needed so many people will exchange God's love for cheap fleeting thrills.  Yet God doesn't stop loving us or generously blessing us. In spite of our foolishness and unfaithful hearts, he still loves us, pursues us and lavishes us with grace.

Here's how Titus 3:5-7 explains this amazing concept, "He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life."

I have decided to trust that I am fulfilling my mission to love others just as God in his mercy and generosity is always giving and reaching out whether or not we are worthy or even appreciate the value of the amazing gifts He is giving us.

Have you ever given a gift that was rejected or wasted?  How did you handle that? How have you seen God's love in spite of being rejected?

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Do Not Be Afraid

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! For behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people:  Luke 2:10

"Do Not be Afraid" has been a theme in my Bible reading. The message comes from two very different passages I have read this week.  First I read the story of God giving Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. God tells Moses to tell the people "Do not be afraid." I read it again during our family advent reading plan when the Angels appeared to the shepherds in the field to give them the good news of the Savior's birth.  

On first glance- the phrase "Do not be afraid" is the only thing that brings these passages together. As I thought about it more I realized in both situations God was giving his Word.   As John 1:1 declares "In the beginning was the Word and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."  Jesus was the Word of God- the law fulfilled.  

The Word was the essence of God - He is truth and light, love and sacrifice, grace and justice.  

Yet God had to tell the people "Do not be afraid."  I often have to tell myself not to be afraid of the things that God has for me.  I have to remind myself that every Good and perfect gift comes down from the father of heavenly lights (James 1:17).  When God gave the law to the Hebrews he gave it for their benefit to bless them. When he gave Jesus, he gave his son because he loved the world. When He sent the Holy Spirit was because he wanted to bless us and allow us to experience supernatural gifts that will bless us and others.  It is for our good.  

My friend Kathleen called me up last week afraid.  Along with my friend Kathy, we are leading a Bible Study next month on the Five Love Languages and a complimentary book on the five languages of saying sorry.    Kathleen is going the lead the part on apologies.  Kathleen said to me "Penny I am afraid of leading this class with you.  If I am going to teach this - I know I have to walk through it and I don't think I want to." 

I completely understood her fear.  I have often been afraid of the things God might call me to do.  Many years ago I was afraid to do the Bible Study Experiencing God because I heard people's lives were changed after doing it- I was afraid of how God might change me.  They were right- it was life changing.  It was the best change ever- God softened my heart toward being a mom.  Why was I afraid? 

I was afraid of being a stay at home mom- I truly didn't know who I was without a career to identify myself.  Being at home has been such a gift and taught me that God is my provider and my satisfaction. 
I have been afraid of blogging and writing on so many levels yet I have learned so much and experienced the joy of understanding Truth and having others understand it too.   

I explained to my friend Kathleen something I often tell myself
"I have nothing to fear.  
What God has in store for me is a blessing.  
He wants to give us good gifts. 
He wants to set us free to live healthy and fulfilling lives.  
We have nothing to fear from our true love, our Heavenly Father, our all knowing and ever faithful God."   

What if the shepherds had allowed their fear to paralyze them from going to worship the newborn king? The shepherds would have missed out on coming face to face with the Messiah.  Their presence didn't change Jesus' destiny but they would have missed a life-changing and amazing blessing.  
What if the people of Israel had let fear keep them from embracing God who gave them the law to bless and protect them?   

Have you let fear keep your from fully worshiping the King of Kings?  Have you let fear keep you from accepting things you don't understand? Have you let fear keep you in a place of slavery and bondage?  

Do not be afraid - these words are simple and life changing.  Try it. Your life will be transformed.  

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Insufficient Resources

Fear the LORD, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. Psalm 34:9

I loved reading questionnaires in magazines to figure out my personality or decorating style.  So much fun.  Today's blog starts with a quiz to see if you have ever "fallen short"?

Have you ever finished last in a race or not even entered the race because you might not finish?
Have you ever been late to an event or a meeting?
Have you ever had to pay an overdue fine at the library?
Have you ever started baking something and realized you were missing an ingredient?
Have you ever been left out of of a celebration?
Have you ever failed to fulfill a goal?
Have you ever felt physically or mentally depleted?
Have you ever had insufficient funds to buy something you really wanted or needed?
Have you ever struggled to find the right words in a situation?

If you answered yes to any of these questions- you will be able to understand the meaning of the Greek word hysteréō  meaning "I am lacking, fall short, suffer need" Properly, at "the end," i.e. coming behind (to "be posterior, late"); (figuratively) coming behind and therefore left out; left wanting (falling short). 5302 /hysteréō ("failing to fulfill a goal") means to be in lack and hence, unable to meet the need at hand because depleted ("all run out"). This state of lack (insufficiency, privation) naturally results when a person misses out on what is vital.

If we are honest with ourselves we all have places in our lives and times that we have been lacking. At one time or another, I could answer yes to everyone of these questions.  Just last month I had to text my neighbor Wendy with a last minute request for some sugar because I had started to make a cheesecake and didn't even have a cup of sugar in the house!  I had insufficient resources and was  lacking. The writer Paul uses this word in Romans 3:23, "All indeed have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." I think Paul knew a lot of good people who wouldn't identify with the concept of sin but were well aware of places they were lacking. 

After thinking about this list of questions, I realized I spend a lot of time and energy avoiding situations where I might come up short.  My cabinets are stocked with essentials so I don't run out, I keep a cushion in my bank account and even have an automatic notification set up if the balance falls below a certain point. I have never entered a marathon because I don't want to fail and I set goals I am 90% certain I can achieve.  Though I try to avoid feeling like what I have is insufficient, it still creeps up on me. Hearing about a party I wasn't invited to, realizing I have to save a little longer for something I want, or finding out that I forgot something important leaves me feeling less than.

While I work hard to avoid being in situations where I won't have enough or be enough, I have friends who have actually embraced their constant need for more. They are on the treadmill of want.  They focus on their lack, their insufficiency and missing out and it drives them to try harder.  There is never enough _______ in their life.  They seek more time, clothes, house, career, friends, achievements,  cars, and money in a never ending cycle of insufficiency.  Once they get the new item, it becomes obsolete.  Once they finish a race, they are training for the next one. This need for more isn't determined by how much or how little you have.   I even think this was a problem a rich young leader had who asked Jesus how to have eternal life. Jesus answered him with this advice, "You still lack one thing: Sell everything you own and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” Luke 18:22. Jesus identified though this man was materially rich, he was still in a state of lack.  Driven by a need for more. Feeling inadequate in spite of affluence.

My friends tend to be people who make good choices, work hard and as a result are successful. They are doctors, engineers, executives, writers, teachers and good tennis players.  They understand that what you do and the choices you make have good and bad consequences. Because they have made mostly good choices and have been successful, they don't connect with the Christian idea of being a sinner.  They look around at people who call themselves Christians who have not been successful and have made lots of dumb choices, and think "I am not anything like them."  Paul must have known people like my friends because right after he wrote that all have sinned, he added that all have fallen short of the glory of God.  He wanted to make sure that even good people, who didn't connect with the idea of being a sinner, understood that they were lacking and had fallen short of the glory of God.  We are created in the image of God to reflect His glory; our insufficiency is evidence of our need.

Next time you find yourself in a place of insufficiency, when you have fallen short and come face to face with your inadequacy, see it as a chance to assess your heart just like taking a personality test in a magazine. 

Are you depending on your own resources and abilities rather than depending on the unlimited grace of God?

Are you always trying to protect yourself from inadequacy and lack rather than realizing we are created to reflect His glory not hoard it for ourselves?

Are you are on the treadmill of want always pushing harder and defining your life by what you don't have rather than using what you have to bless others?

Are you focused on fear of not enough you or fear of God?