Tuesday, July 30, 2013

That's My Boy!

This is my Son, whom I love;
with him I am well pleased. Matthew 3:17

Four times in the New Testament the Father audibly voiced His approval of Jesus. Matthew seventeen describes the events that occurred at the Transfiguration. Peter, James and John saw Jesus glorified. They watched Him converse with Moses and Elijah. In the midst of this awesome experience they heard the Father speak. “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” Matthew 17:5. It’s easy to see why God was so happy. Jesus’ ministry was in high gear. People were healed and delivered; the dead were raised; the good news of the kingdom was preached and people were transformed. Jesus, in conjunction with the Father, impacted lives every where He went. In our terminology, He was a mover and a shaker. He was gittin’ it done.

The other time God spoke these words was at Jesus’ baptism. At that time, Jesus wasn’t in public ministry. As a carpenter He hadn’t worked a single miracle or preached a sermon. The water that became wine was still just water. The madman of Gadara was a raving lunatic. The lame man at the pool of Bethesda watched for help to enter the water when it stirred. The boy with epilepsy continued to throw himself in the fire when he experienced a fit. No one knew about the kingdom of God or had heard one word about it. Jesus hadn’t done anything to counteract the depravity and misery that ran rampant all around Him. That’s the point.

God’s dramatic demonstration of His love and approval of Jesus at this juncture in His life teaches us an important lesson, if we pay attention. God’s love for us is based on who we are, not what we do. God is pleased when we obey and do what he tells us to do but His feelings toward us aren’t based on our accomplishments. If we ever doubt how He feels about us, the bible reminds us: “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life,” John 3:16.

God doesn’t love us because we do all the right things all of the time. He loves us because He can’t help Himself. That’s why He created us. He wanted a family. He knew before He ever set His plan in motion that man would fall, so He devised a way to win us back. The solution would be based on what He did, not on what we could accomplish. Like any parent, He delights when we listen and obey but that’s not the foundation of His unconditional love toward us.

           If you've ever felt as if you’ve missed the mark and disappointed God, join the club. Then go back and read Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11 and Luke 3:22. Remember at that point in His life Jesus was only a carpenter from Galilee and not the miracle worker Who took the nation by storm. Still God was pleased with Him. Let the concept of God’s love which isn’t performance based permeate your being. If you listen closely you’ll hear Him say, “That’s my boy (girl)!”

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/6665694069/">Lawrence OP</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">cc</a

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

You Met Your Match

When Jesus heard this, He was astonished. Matthew 8:10

The closing rift to the Stevie Wonder song, You Met Your Match was my inspiration for this piece. Early in His ministry Jesus met His match. It wasn’t another messiah wannabe and in no way was it satan. This person wasn’t even Jewish. The man was a Roman centurion. As far as we know he was a pagan, perhaps a charming one, a heathen if you please. Their meeting is recorded in Matthew 8 and Luke 7.

What did Jesus and the centurion share in common? Jesus began his earthly ministry around the age of thirty, the same minimum age required for a man to be considered for a centurion. Only a soldier with extensive military experience who demonstrated skill in his profession was a potential candidate for this position of authority. Like the centurion, Jesus was a mature individual with a track record of excellence. Both were competent, disciplined men capable of decisive, deliberate action.

Second, both men were under authority. The centurion described himself as “a man under authority,” Matthew 8:9. Jesus freely admitted, “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me,” John 8:28. The men were under the command of a higher ranked official. They were responsible to obey any order immediately without question.

Third, Jesus and the centurion were leaders. Besides expertise as a soldier, a centurion needed leadership skills. Here he had an advantage. Roman soldiers weren’t a sloppy lot. They wouldn’t survive if they were. Disciplined warriors, they obeyed orders without question and would lay down their lives for the success of their mission. We, the Body of Christ should be so dedicated.

Fourth, both men understood the power of spoken words. The centurion issued and obeyed orders without any hesitation. He recognized in Jesus the ability to speak and produce results. He knew authority when he saw it. Luke 7 says he had a soft spot in his heart for the Jewish people but it doesn’t say he was a proselyte or even someone who believed in God. Unhindered by any religious mumbo-jumbo, the centurion recognized the real deal when he met Jesus.

Fifth, they were both men of faith. Jesus marveled at the centurion’s great faith. The word used there occurs only one other time in reference to Jesus. In Mark 6:6 He marveled at the unbelief of the people. For Jesus to call anyone’s faith great is quite the compliment, especially for an unbeliever.

Finally, Jesus and the centurion assumed their positions with the knowledge that it could cost them their lives. Jesus’ active ministry lasted about three years. He knew from before the foundation of the world that His time here would be short. A centurion understood that his time in the job could be very brief. In battle the centurion led the charge. He was the first man over the wall in an attack and usually died in battle. Both were willing to lay down their lives if necessary.

If Jesus could find someone like himself outside of His faith; how about us? Can we look past the external trappings and find our own modern day centurions? Even more important, will they find the Jesus they’re looking for in us.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Get Hitched

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30

Something about Jesus’ invitation to hook up with Him bothered me, the word yoke. A yoke is the heavy, cumbersome contraption designed to pair a team of oxen. Hitched together, the animals could double the power available to haul, plow and so forth. Their freedom restricted, the oxen were forced to work together. Only when the hard work was done were the animals released to rest. Yokes were symbols of drudgery. In theory I knew that Jesus was the best person to be teamed up with, but the concept of a yoke still chaffed me. It symbolized hard, grueling labor and I viewed Jesus’ offer with some skepticism.

I’ve since come to a different understanding of the yoke Jesus spoke of. Proverbs 16:27 reads: “The lawless man digs up evil, as if a fire burns on his lips.” Lawless man is a conjunction of Hebrew words which mean without a yoke. It describes a person who has no fear of God. The person’s lack of association with God turns them into a loose cannon of sorts. Unrestrained, this individual doesn’t think before they act, or even think at all. Often the results are disastrous. Unbridled, they are unruly and undisciplined.

The Mishlei is the book of Proverbs that also contains the study notes and commentary of Jewish scholars through the ages. The insights bring understanding to the meanings of words and customs that are foreign to me. It provides a glimpse into the complex structure developed to prohibit one from breaking the law, even accidentally. Emphasis is placed on Torah study, acts of kindness, benevolence and obedience in even the most miniscule details of life. In other words, enough is never enough. The pressure is on to make the grade and to never miss the mark. I don’t know how anyone could keep track of it all and that’s the point Jesus addressed in Matthew 11.

His audience that day understood what He meant when He spoke of a yoke. He offered them an alternative to the crushing weight that came with their attempts to keep the law perfectly. He didn’t propose a life without restraint, but a chance to learn from Him a whole new way of living. His yoke isn’t working harder to keep the law but an opportunity to learn from the One whom the law points to. What He offered was lighter and easier than what they labored under. It’s called grace and it is available to us too. Grace isn’t sloppy agape or a license to sin, but it’s the power of God that transforms us into new creatures in Christ.

I was so focused on the word yoke that I overlooked the word learn. I thought His yoke was all about manual labor as opposed to a relationship with Him. Now, I like His idea of being teamed up together; it’s comfortable and fits me perfectly. With Jesus as my partner we make a dynamic duo. As He leads I have confidence that I’m on the right path. With Holy Spirit’s help I’ll learn how to think and act His way. My priorities will stay straight, I’ll be focused on the right things and still have fun to boot. I’m getting hitched!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Bang Head Here

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. Proverbs 14:12

I think I’ll open an avian clinic to treat traumatic head and beak injuries. A female cardinal believes a rival for her mate’s affection lives in my dining room. Perched on the deck chair she glares at this interloper. She dive bombs; hits the glass; falls to the deck slightly stunned; poops and starts all over again. All day long we hear the tap, tap on the door as she attempts to chase her nemesis away.

Feral cats hang around our house and eat the bread put out for the birds. They watch the crazy cardinal with amusement. I thought I could employ them to staff the bird care facility. In close proximity, they can respond quickly. My husband suspects their idea of a treatment plan wouldn’t include aspirin and cold compresses. Maybe that’s not such a good idea.

Sometimes we act like this cardinal and reap the same miserable results. We see a problem, a threat, something that needs to be changed and we take action. The obstacle refuses to budge. Our repeated failed attempts, using the same strategy, leaves us knee deep in a stinking mess with a headache to boot. We’re not crazy to tackle such a project. Insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. What’s our problem?

            Change is a challenge. The status quo, though less than perfect, is predictable. We learn to live with discomfort and craft storylines to support our position:
           “I’ve always had a bad temper, it runs in our family”;
“I hate my job, but what can I do? No one will hire me. I’m too (fill in the blank)”;
“It’s not fair. I’ve given the best years of my life and look how they treated me. I got kicked to the curb and they’ve moved on.”

Volumes could be filled with the sad songs we’ve sung. Our frustration is justified; at times we’ve been wronged. Life dealt us a colossal, unfair hand. We’ve made a gigantic mess and now we’re stuck with the results. We choose to stay as is or we change. If change came with pre-printed, step-by-step instructions that guaranteed success every time and removed the element of unpleasant surprises it would be much easier. The degree of difficulty is often in an inverse proportion to the desire for something different. The more determined we are to redesign our circumstance, come what may, the greater the probability of success increases. One reason we fail to implement a new strategy for one that’s doesn't work is a lack of commitment. We hope for a quick fix, a knight in shining armor to come to our rescue (my favorite). When things are harder than anticipated we quietly give up. We put on a good show of half-hearted attempts to fool everyone including ourselves. Hey, at least we’re trying! The reality is our heart isn’t in it.

I worked as a graphic artist for a telecommunications company and designed ads for yellow page directories. The most frustrating aspect of the job was the sloppy, incomplete and illegible paperwork submitted by the sales force. It was normal for important information to be missing or incorrect, which resulted in additional work in order to provide the customer with a quality product. This wasn’t a new problem. It cost the company thousands of dollars in lost revenue every year. Management was unwilling to institute the necessary changes. Why? They, for the most part, were all former sales personnel. The job of the support staff was made more difficult and money was wasted. It was like banging your head against an immovable wall.

I thought I’d hang a sign on my door that read “Bang Head Here!” I know the bird doesn’t read but it would remove her reflection in the glass. With the threat gone she could finally get some rest. I think God does this for us. He puts things in our paths to disrupt our unproductive, painful behavior. I doubt He enjoys our futile attempts to produce the results we desire. Maybe it’s time to stop banging our heads and read the sign. It just might be the answer to our problem.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Petiquette. Lassie Come Home!

Supposed You Planned a Funeral and the Guest of Honor Disappeared?

Pet owners face the inevitable passing of their beloved companions. For many it is like a death in the family. Veterinary clinics, pet cemeteries and crematoriums provide options for handling the remains of the deceased. Things normally go smoothly, without a hitch. On rare occasions the wheels fall completely off the wagon and chaos ensues. Names have been changed and the locale omitted to prevent further grief and embarrassment. For my friends in N.W. Georgia, breathe easy. This event occurred in the “Shallow South”, that area close to the Mason-Dixon Line and Washington D.C. where Yankee infiltration is highly possible and proper southern gentility is corrupted. The story is bizarre AND true. It raises thought provoking questions concerning proper petiquette and pet funerals.

Our story begins with “Mr. B” who owned five pets. One, a collie I’ll name Lassie, died. Mr. B visited the local pet cemetery and bought five plots, one for Lassie and four to be used by his surviving pets. Together in life, they would now be side-by-side eternally. Unhappy with the selection of caskets at the facility, Mr. B visited a funeral parlor (the human kind) and found something more suitable there. The vet clinic storing Lassie in its deep freeze was notified to bring her out, chip off the ice crystals and prepare her for transport to the cemetery for her viewing (you read that correctly) and funeral. A quick search produced an alarming discovery. The dead collie was no where to be found? How far a dead dog could wander off is anyone’s guess, but Lassie wasn’t just dead; she was dead and GONE!

The most likely answer short of a dead dog-napping - the dog was mistakenly tagged for mass cremation and shipped off to the local facility. A quick call to the crematorium confirmed their worst fears. There was no record for an individual cremation for a collie named Lassie from that clinic. If Lassie had been sent to them, and not wandered off somewhere or gone home with someone else, she was now long gone.

As a former pet owner I know how hard it is when they die, however, when I heard this story I laughed ‘til I cried. Why? Who in their right mind has a viewing for a dog? Furthermore, what rules of petiquette come into play when planning and hosting a pet funeral? Inquiring minds want to know! Should one post a obit in the local newspaper announcing all the particulars or are invitations with R.S. V. P. cards more appropriate? In my locale it’s not unusual to provide light snacks at a viewing. In view of special dietary needs, should the host provide a range of low calorie, gluten free, macrobiotic, organically and shade tree grown, free-range, bird friendly snacks? Most pets would stick their paws down their throats and gag before eating that over priced cardboard; they’d opt for regular finger foods.

I wonder if cats and dogs stand around at viewings and ask each other the $50,000 question: “Doesn’t he (or she) look like himself?” In the case of the missing collie this was a mute point unless a stunt double was secured and then there would be a real topic for discussion. Should services conform to local leash laws or should freedom of expression be encouraged to assuage grief? At funerals, we’ve endured long winded eulogies and tributes. Should interpreters be provided so the attending pets can be as bored to tears as the humans?

            Because we love our pets, the door is wide open to crafty entrepreneurs eager to separate our money from our wallets in time of emotional upheaval. How about cryogenically preserving Fido for potential future resuscitation? Sending our dearly beloved into space to an inter-galactic pet cemetery provides opportunities to chase asteroids and dodge NASA’s space junk. Grief counselors, with specialized training could help surviving pets find “closure”. How they managed for hundreds of years on their own without help is one of those great mysteries of life. Finally, since according to Hollywood All Dogs Go To Heaven, and Hollywood never lies, studies should be funded at tax payer expense to find out what happens when cats, gerbils, hamsters, birds and so forth pass on to their final reward.

Here’s a thought. When preparing for a pet’s demise, stop and think? If they were in your shoes, what would they do? Would they go through a lot of expensive nonsense to bury you? I don’t think so. They'd opt for a trip to Hawaii or a cruise to Alaska to restore their emotional equilibrium. Sounds good to me.

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/chris_leung/2443049907/">ThreeDee912</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">cc</a>

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Get Shorty

And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. Romans 16:20

Christianity isn’t a static experience; it involves taking new ground continuously. To assist us in this mission the Lord provided the shoes of peace found in Ephesians 6:13. To describe this weapon, Paul made reference to the shoes worn by Roman soldiers. This equipment was comprised of two elements, a greave and the shoe itself. The greave wrapped around the lower leg and protected the wearer from bruises, lacerations and broken bones. Soldiers traversed difficult terrain injury free because their equipment protected them. The shoes were made up of several pieces of strong, durable leather. The soles were imbedded with dangerous spikes anywhere from one to three inches in length depending on the need. Now we know who really invented platform shoes. The legs and feet of a Roman soldier were formidable weapons in and of themselves.

Our shoes serve a dual purpose; they protect our feet and wreck havoc on our enemy Satan. The word bruise in the Greek is suntribo. Historically it means to smash and crush grapes in the winemaking process. The same word also describes the act of breaking, snapping and crushing bones so completely that reconstruction is impossible. In order for our shoes to be effective, Satan has to be under them. To render this type of damage, we need to be in a joint venture with God. With Him as our partner the devil hasn’t anyway to escape the debilitating blows delivered by our feet.

Finally it’s time to “get shorty”! The verse states that this act of conquest will happen shortly. The question is “how short is shortly”? This is an instance where our understanding of shortly is very different from the meaning in the original Greek. The word shortly is tachos and hasn’t anything to do with the measurement of time. Tachos describes how a large group of Roman soldiers marched down the street. In formation they used short, heavy steps that created a racket on the stone and marble pavements and streets. The men were instructed to march and not break rank for anyone or anything. A person or animal that lay in their path was pulverized as the troop marched right over top of them. Paul describes the weapon available to a person who refuses to be stopped no matter what obstacle lies in his path. That person, when joined with other like-minded believers constitutes a force to be reckoned with.
           I admit when I leaned what shortly really meant I was a disappointed. I wanted a definition of how long I’d have to wait to experience victory, not a description of how I need to march. Now that I know there may not be a fast outcome I’m better prepared to keep moving ahead, unstoppable like a Roman soldier on the march. If I refuse to give up I can march over that pipsqueak, the devil, and I’ll really “Get Shorty”!