Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Love Story Week 13: So What?

Do you believe that your life matters?  It does.  Your voice and your story matter.  
People live messy lives, and they need to know about Jesus' redeeming love.  
People need to know that their life is a "so that," not a "so what?"
- Janet Waters

On my calendar, Tuesdays are scheduled as "Quiet Days."  Tuesday is the day I set aside for my own soul care, and Tuesday is the day I review and prepare for Wednesday Bible study.  Therefore, Tuesdays are not really Quiet Days.  Tuesdays are the day that voice in my head chatters the loudest.

Every Tuesday, I sit at my computer to write this blog post.  I stare at the blinking cursor.  I think about the story that we are learning this week.  I look out the window.  I fold some laundry.  I wash some dishes or clean out a drawer—anything to silence the voice which says:

You have nothing to say worth hearing.
They already know that.
Somebody's already said it better.
Nobody will read it anyway.
Who do you think you are?
Why bother?
So what?
It doesn't matter!
You're blonde!

Really, she can think up the craziest list of reasons why I should not tell you what I tell you every Wednesday on this blog.

Some writers call this voice The Inner Critic.  Every artist hears this voice, even if they don't believe in good or evil, even if they don't believe in God.  In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield calls it the Resistance.

But I know this voice.

It is the voice of the snake in the Garden, poisoning Eve with doubt.  "Why won't God let you eat any of the fruit from the trees in this garden?"

It is the voice in the wilderness, tempting a hungry Jesus. "If you are the Son of God, why don't you turn these stones into bread?"

It is the voice of fear, rising up in Peter.  "No Lord!  These things will never happen to you!"

Resistance.  It's what the enemy speaks.  It's his dark force.  It's what anyone feels when they dare to stand firm in faith or step forward to make a difference.

Our old adversary makes an appearance in this week's Wednesday Bible study.  It's a story of contrasts.  Peter is all emotion, one minute declaring his undying loyalty, the next minute swearing he never heard of Jesus, in between falling asleep on his watch.  Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem.  He knows where he has come from and where he is going.  His hour has come, and he is paying attention.  He knows his part in God's plan.

Remember the plan?  It's what we learned the very first week began telling God's Love Story:

Long before he laid down earth's foundations, God had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.  Long, long ago he decided to adopt us  into his family through Jesus Christ.  (What please he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.
- Ephesians 1:4-6 The Message

There is a moment in this week's story that takes place in another garden, where the Enemy tries again to tempt Jesus to take a shortcut, to say, "So what?"  As Jesus wrestles with the Resistance, Peter sleeps.  Jesus has to shake him awake.  The angry mob approaches with torches and swords.  Peter grabs his own sword, cutting off the ear of a guard.

"Put back your sword!" Jesus ordered Peter.  
"Did you think for one minute that I would not do what my Father has planned?"
- John 18:11

What my Father has planned.  Long, long ago, before the world existed, Jesus knew and agreed to the plan.  This plan:

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, 
so that whoever believes in him will not die, but have life with God forever.
- John 3:16

Why has it never hit me before this?  Jesus said those words, about himself. And he knew what they would cost him.  He leaned across the table to Nicodemus and said, " It is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up, so that everyone who looks to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real and lasting life.  For God loved the world so much..."

What strikes me in this week's story is not Peter's erratic loyalty.  It's not his betrayal.  I'm not surprised by that because I do it every day.  What blows me away is Jesus' unwavering faithfulness to the plan, to the love of God.  To play his part.  To deliver the life God designed with us in mind all along.

I have no doubt that the whole way the Resistance was shouting, "SO WHAT?"

I have no doubt that the whole way Jesus was replying, "So that..."

Click here to listen to the story of Peter's failure and Jesus' faithfulness
and download the Bible study.

Who will you tell this story to this week so that they will know how much God loves them?

Your voice matters.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Love Story Week 12: You're Invited

Confession:  Invitations to parties stress me out.  Weddings, showers, graduation celebrations, receptions—especially receptions—I have issues.

I love, love you and I love, love that you have thought enough of me to choose me to be part of your special moment.  It's just the getting there that's hard for me.  One of two things happens: I have some anxiety issues, and they can show up as social phobias.  So I might happily RSVP to your invitation months in advance, but as the day approaches, really start to be anxious about actually being there, to the point that I have panic attacks about it and end up hiding under the covers with my hair uncombed while you are cutting the cake.

Or, the other thing:  I just hate to dress up.  So—and I'm just being so brutally honest with you here—it might be a really beautiful spring day and I'm in my shorts and everybody's out in the neighborhood enjoying their kids and their yards, or it's a dark rainy day and I'm curled up under my cozy blanket watching TCM, and either way I'm really annoyed that I have to get up and comb my hair and put makeup on and get dressed up and drink punch because I love you.

I'm mortified to admit this to you, and I suspect you will not be inviting me to many parties anymore.  But do know this: that if I could come in my jammies with my hair uncombed, I would most happily come celebrate with you, because I do love you.  And know this, too:  that when I do suck it up and get dressed and come to your party, it is always a beautiful moment that I'm so glad I didn't miss, because I love you.

I tell you all this because I've been learning the story for Wednesday Bible study this week.  It's a story about being invited to an incredible party; and it's one of the most disturbing and dividing stories that Jesus told.

Jesus continued his work from God.  He was showing and telling people how life with God works—forgiving disobedience, showing people how to have a right relationship with God and be part of what God is doing in the world.  Some people were surprised by what Jesus said and did.  Some people were even upset about it.  The religious leaders were downright angry.

Jesus knew this, and so he told this story:

"Life with God is like a king who threw a great wedding feast for his son."

Jesus told stories because the reaction of his listeners revealed what was in their heart.  Were they surprised?  Offended?  Convicted?  Drawn to him?  The story is much like the king's party; it's an invitation, and how we respond makes all the difference.

This story is populated with all kinds of responses.  There are the original invited guests, the ones who were sent the invitation well in advance.  There are the ones who can't be bothered to come, because it's a beautiful day for working in the garden, or there is a long list of To Do's at work.  There are people who literally shoot the messenger, they so don't want to have anything to do with the King or his party.  There are the people invited right off the street, the surprise guests.  There's the guest who couldn't or wouldn't dress up in the clothes appropriate for celebrating.

Who do you relate to?  It teaches you something about your heart, how you feel about being invited by God to celebrate his Son, whom he loves so much, to celebrate his Son's Bride, whom he loves so much that he gave his Son's life.  And all during this week, as I have learned this story, I have felt that I am this character or that character—and been convicted by that. Because, like the story of the sower and the soils, there is all of this in every heart.  We are, at different times, each of these guests, and I am convicted by that. But most of all, I am convicted as I see this story through the eyes of the King, who gives the party.

Because I've been the invitation-sender. I have sons, and I've thrown them parties.  We've planned a wedding and a wedding reception, a rehearsal dinner and showers.  We've thrown graduation parties and baby showers and celebrated milestone birthdays and anniversaries.  I think about how carefully we chose the people to be there with us for that moment, the ones who we treasure, the ones we knew shared our love for the family member being honored.  And it mattered so much to us that you came, that you laughed, that you loved and shared the joy.  

And this story tells me: it matters to Him.

The old-fashioned invitations used to say, "The pleasure of your company is requested."

And that truth blows me away.

Click here to listen to the story of the King and his guests
and download the Bible study.

Who will you tell this story to this week?

Friday, April 4, 2014

TGIF: the gift of normal

I've let two Fridays go by without a TGIF post.  Not that the world has stopped.

I didn't do them because I didn't think I had anything significant to write about, just everyday life.  Just putting one foot in front of the other and doing each day.  So normal.  What's interesting in that for you to read about?

What I'm Trusting:
But in the past several weeks, three friends have had their lives turned upside down by unexpected grave illness.  They are in uncharted territory.  This week, one of them wrote that her favorite quote is, "Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are."  She was so grateful because that day had just been a day of laundry, cooking a meal, watching TV.  No doctors, machines, tests, forms to fill out.

In this splashy, sensational culture, we can feel that normal is nothing to celebrate.  These days, I'm in a season of very normal days.  And I'm trusting that they are a gift to be treasured.  They are probably more rare than I imagine.

How I'm practicing Gratitude:
In her wonderful little e-book Mini-Missions for Simplicity: Small Actions Massive Change, Courtney Carver recommends the mini-mission of single-tasking.  We are such habitual multi-taskers that we don't even realize we are doing it.  We don't even realize we are not present for this moment.  Single-tasking means that I do one thing mindfully, present to it, enjoying it, experiencing it with all my senses.  Folding warm laundry.  Enjoying the sizzle of the garlic when it drops into the oil as I start dinner.  Watching my husband's face as he talks about his day.  Noticing the lady who is checking out my groceries.  Liking the blue pen I use to write a note.  Single-tasking is being there for the gift of the normal day.

What Inspires me:

What's Fun:
Spring is here, and I'm upping my mileage, so I have a new Happy playlist for walking.  Of course, Pharrell's song is on there, but here are a few oldies that also make me happy and keep me going the extra mile:

All My Fountains (I like Travis Cottrell's version)
The Power of Love (Huey Lewis & the News)
You Can Call Me Al (Paul Simon)
The Way You Make Me Feel (Michael Jackson)
Again I Say Rejoice (Israel Houghton)
Dance Tonight (Paul McCartney)
Friend of God (Travis Cottrell)
If I Ever Lose My Faith in You (Sting)
What A Fool Believes (Michael McDonald)

These are also good for dancing around the house, if it's raining and you can't walk,  I almost threw a hip out the other day dancing to "Every Move I Make" by Dave Crowder.

What's your TGIF?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Love Story Week 11: Forgiven Much

An Amish boy and his father go into a shopping mall, where they see a sight they've never seen before: a set of shiny silver doors that open and close when people push a button.  People are going and coming through these doors.

"What is this, Father?" asks the boy.

"I don't know, son, "replies the father.  "Let's watch."

As they watch, a shriveled old woman painfully steers her wheelchair up to the set of silver doors and pushes the button.  The doors open.  The old woman slowly wheels herself into the tiny room beyond.  The shiny doors close, and flashing lights go off above them.  When they open, a beautiful young woman walks out!

The father turns to his son and says, "Go get your mother."

Corny, I know;  but I love that old joke.  Don't you wish you had a set of those shiny silver doors in your church?  You could shove people through them, and they would come out perfect—no problems, no complaints, no irritating opinions that conflict with yours.  Wouldn't that be just great?  So far, I haven't found any church that has a set of those doors.

But here's the thing:  we act like we do.  We act like we've all been through them and come out shiny.

Here's how it happens:

I was sitting in Vacation Bible School opening assembly one morning when a woman "shared her testimony" with the children.  She said, "I was six years old when I became a Christian.  It was on a Sunday.  The pastor had talked about sin that day.  When I went home, I asked my mama, 'What is sin?' and she said, 'Honey, sin is all the bad things we do.  The bad things we do build a wall between us and God.  But God loves us so much, he sent Jesus to die on the cross and tear down that wall.  When we ask Jesus to live in our hearts, he takes away our sin.'"

Sounds familiar, yes?  Is it right?  Not quite.  And that's dangerous.

See, I'm watching my nine-year-old son, who has just become a Christian the day before in his VBS class.  His teacher asked if anybody would like to ask Jesus into their heart, and he raised his hand.  Now, I know what he is thinking:  Sin is all the bad things I do.  And when I asked Jesus to live in my heart, he took away my sin.  But....I still do bad things.  Like I pinched my little brother this morning on the way to VBS, and I lied about it.  So, either it didn't work, and Jesus doesn't live in my heart.  Or, God can't love me, because I still do bad things.

God can't love me, because I do bad things. You get a kid—let's say a little girl—thinking like that when she's six or seven, and by the time she's sixteen or seventeen, she's learned to hide all the bad things.  By the time she's twenty-six or twenty-seven, she's volunteering for everything in an effort to do enough good things to balance the bad things.  By the time she's thirty-six or thirty-seven, she's exhausted from doing all those good things, because you can never do enough good things to be good enough.  So you become a forty-six or forty-seven year old woman who sits in the pew and wonders, "Does God really love me?"

I was thinking about this as I prepared for Wednesday Bible study this week because our story is about the woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. It's quite a scandalous story.  Jesus is in the home of a religious leader named Simon.  They are sitting down to a meal when the woman enters and comes to the feet of Jesus.  This woman had apparently done a lot of bad things and done them very publicly.

Simon said to himself, "If this man were really from God,
he would know what kind of woman this is, falling all over him."
- Luke 7:39

That's what we're all afraid of, isn't it?  That someone will find out what kind of person we are—that God will find out—and they will have nothing to do with us.  And here is where we, the church, fail the gospel.  We have assumed that God only loves shiny, fixed people who behave perfectly. That is not what the gospel says.  It says quite plainly that God proved his love for us in this way:  while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

I will never be good enough.  Yet God loves me.

I do bad things.  Yet God loves me.

If you knew what kind of person I am, all the stuff up in this heart and head, all the things I've done or wanted to do, you would be appalled.  Yet God loves me.

She has been forgiven much, much disobedience.  So she has been very, very grateful.
The person who has been forgiven little shows very little gratitude.
-Luke 7:47

Oh, if we could take all the effort we expend being good enough and put it toward being grateful enough! 

Click here to listen to the story of the woman who was forgiven much
and download the Bible study.

Who will you tell this story to?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Love Story Week 10: Put out into the deep

It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. 
Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.
- Ephesians 1:11-12 The Message

Last week was Spring Break here in Williamson County, so we were also on a break from Wednesday Bible study.  I am so ready to get back to it, especially to learn this week's story.  It's another one of those stories you think you know, because you've heard it, but when you start to learn it well enough to tell it—when you start to picture it happening—you realize you didn't know it at all.  

If you grew up in church, you probably learned this story sitting in a circle in front of a flannel board, as your teacher put the pieces of the story in place:  Jesus, Peter, the boats, the fish, all the people on the shore.  You probably learned the shorter version, found in Matthew or Mark:  Jesus was walking by the lake.  He saw some fishermen: Peter and Andrew, James and John.  He called to them, "Follow me."  And they led their nets and followed him.

You might have learned the little song that comes from Luke's version of the story:  "I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men..."

I love this story and am happy that it is time to learn it, because it makes a big turn in the larger Love Story of what God is about in the world.  Up to now, we have learned that we are part of a great love story—that we are, in fact, the focus of God's love, that he set his heart on us before he ever spoke the first word of creation.  We've learned that there is competition for our hearts, that we are prone to wander, that God is a faithful pursuer and that in Jesus he has rescued us from the wreckage of our wandering.  But there is more to God's plan that just being rescued from.  We are rescued to.

When he was finished teaching, he said to Peter, “Put out into the deep water now, and let down your nets for a catch.”

Peter said,  “Oh, Master.  We’ve been out fishing all night, and we haven’t caught anything!  But because you tell me to, I’ll do it.”

So they took the boat out into the deep water and let down the nets.  And the fish swarmed to them!

Peter had to call for help, and pretty soon the nets were full, and they hauled them into the boats, and the boats were on the verge of sinking, there were so many fish!  
- Luke 5:4-7

Every week, in every story, there is a realization that takes my breath away, that brings me to tears.  And this is when it happened to me this week: And the fish swarmed to them!

There is a moment in your life—there must be that moment—when you realize that you were rescued to be part of something greater than just your one life.  There is Someone greater at work around you.  It is His story that is THE story, HIs work that is THE work.  And you have a part in it.  

A man who'd spent his life on the sea took the Lord of the Sea out in his boat, and the fish came swarming. The water began to ripple as their fins crested, the deep blue swirled, and the boat spun as they swam up and up and up, leaping into the air, into the boat, leaping for joy at the feet of their Maker.  

"Peter," Jesus said, "From now on, you're going to catch people."
-Luke 5:10

I think he was laughing when he said it.  Laughing as the fish flipped and flew around him.  I think Jesus was laughing because he could already see the day when Peter would preach in the power of the Spirit and three thousand people would swarm to Jesus. (Acts 2:41)  I think Jesus was laughing because he already knew and loved by name every member of the church he would build upon this Rock, this fisherman who didn't even know yet that he was a Rock.

It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.

Put out into the deep water.

There is fear in that.  Risk.  Potential.  And more.  Oh!  There is so much more.

When I was a little girl, I remember standing on the edge of the diving board, shivering at the deep end of the pool below.  My Dad was treading that shimmering water, holding out his arms to me and calling, "Come on!  Jump in!  Don't be afraid!"  He was laughing as he said it.  He was laughing when I jumped.  He was laughing when he caught me and as we swam to the edge together.

Click here to listen to the story of Peter's leap of faith and download the Bible study.

Who will you tell this story to?

Friday, March 14, 2014

TGIF: blessings, beards, big Friday fun

What I'm Trusting:
That God is always doing something kind and wonderful, even when it's hard.  This week our Wednesday Bible study story was Jesus' birth.  The angel Gabriel says to Mary, "Good news!  God is doing something kind and wonderful, and you have a part in it."  And then he goes on to explain how her world will be up-ended by a miraculous pregnancy and a baby who will divide the world.  Nothing about this is easy.  Right now, people I love are walking paths that are hard.  I trust that the God who called them and loves them is doing something kind and wonderful, even though for them it is not easy.

What I'm Grateful for:
Arley Worley.  She is an amazing passionate mom and wife, a friend who gets in the trenches and fights for people she loves.  She is creative and generous and beautiful.  And wickedly funny.  This week, in a group text, my guys were comparing beards.  (Matt is growing a gruesome one at the moment.)  Arley shut us all up with this photo:

What Inspires me:
This week I was part of a workshop on Bible storytelling, led by this amazing team.  Their passion for figuring out how to tell the story of God to a particular people is contagious.  Their faithfulness to just tell the story all over the world all the time is moving.

What's Fun:
Sleep-over tonight with the grandkids!  Who wouldn't want to hang out with this:

What's your TGIF?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Love Story Week 9: Mary said "Yes"

The doorbell rang one spring afternoon.  And there stood my precious teenaged friend.  I love this girl with all my heart.  I didn't have any daughters, so she has always been my daughter.

I hadn't expected her, but I was so glad to see her.  And then I really saw her.  Her face was wet with tears.  Before I could say, "Come in," she burst through the door and into my arms.  For the next few minutes she sobbed out her story to me, and I listened to the hurt and the longing, and I sought for something comforting to say.  I stroked her hair.

"Sweetheart," I began, "You are SO special."

"Yeah?" she sobbed.  "Well, being special sucks!"

I wish I could find a nicer word to use there, to tell you this story without shocking you.  But the truth is what it is.  And here's the truth:  As much as we all want to be special, to be chosen, to be picked, to stand out, to be crowned or handed the rose, being special is sometimes lonely.  And scary.  And hard.  And feels more like "Don't eat the paste" special than "Here she is, Miss America."

To be set apart carries a burden.  It has a dark side.  It comes at a cost.

That's why, when the Angel Gabriel tells Mary, "Good news!  God has chosen you!" I'm surprised that Mary said, "Yes!"  Especially when he explained what she'd been chosen for.

You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.
This will happen through the power of God's Spirit.
Therefore, the child you will bring to birth will be called the Son of God.
- Luke 1:31, 35

In the words of Mark Lowry's beautiful Christmas lyric, Mary, did you know?  How much did you know?  

Surely when the angel said he would be from the line of King David, he would rule forever—when he started using the language of the prophets—Mary realized he was talking about the Messiah, the one they'd all been waiting for, the one God had said would save his people.  God's Promise Keeper. And maybe she was up for being the mother of the King.

But did she remember what Isaiah had said about him?  

He will be beaten, and we will have peace.
He will be whipped, and we will be healed.
He will die paying the price for our disobedience.
And this was God's plan all along.
- Isaiah 53:5, 6, 10

Did she say yes to the whole plan?  

I've been wondering about this as I learned this week's story for Wednesday Bible study.  Last week, we learned those promises in Isaiah;  we learned what God's Promise Keeper would do.  And this week, the Promise Keeper, Jesus, is born.  And it begins when an angel comes to a virgin named Mary and says, "You have been chosen."

You have been chosen to have your life completely up-ended and your marriage to Joseph put on the line.  You have been chosen to become miraculously pregnant, the hometown scandal. You have been chosen to love and feed and raise this baby and then let him go to his destiny because he is not your son, he is the son of God, who will save us all.

Some people will reject him, and that will be their greatest undoing.
But many will choose to follow him, and that will be their greatest joy.
This is his destiny, and it will break your heart.
- Luke 2:34-35

Mary knew that when she left the temple, after dedicating her new baby, after meeting Simeon, who'd been waiting to set eyes on God's Promise Keeper.

Sometimes I like the idea of being chosen, of having a part in what God is doing.  At first, I am ready to take the leap.  I am like, "Let's do this!"  And then, there is the reality of doing it.  And maybe that's what happened to Mary.  What I know is: she took that baby home, and she raised him.  And she stood at the foot of the cross, as a sword pierced her heart.  And she went to the tomb in the first light of that third day, to find another angel with equally stunning news.

How much did Mary know at the beginning?  She knew that God said, "Nothing is impossible. And you have a part."

So Mary said, "Yes!"

Blessed woman, who believed what God said,
believed every word would come true!
Luke 1:45

Click here to listen to the story of the birth of Jesus
and download the Bible study.

Who will you tell this story to?