Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Love Story Week 15: Whoosh!

When Ben Worley was still little enough that he would let me read to him every night,  I read him the Harry Potter stories.  (Harry Potter haters:  Hang on.  I'm about to tell you how good can come from The EvIl Literature.)

It should come as no surprise to you that I love to read stories aloud.  All sorts of stories, but especially ones with characters who have distinctive voices, and most especially ones with characters who speak with a British accent.  I neeeeed an excuse to speak with a British accent whenever possible. Mary Poppins.  Winnie the Pooh.  The Chronicles of Narnia.  Lemony Snickett.  Anything by Roald Dahl.  And Harry Potter.  These all afford me proper excuses, so I went at reading Harry Potter with Anglo enthusiasm.  In fact, the best moment was when Ben and I went to the first Harry Potter movie, and Ben turned to me part way through and whispered, "They got the voices right."

So one night I was reading the book in which Harry, Ron and Hermione go to the world cup Quidditch matches.  There Harry finds that there are schools like Hogwarts in other countries!  As they walk among the tents of the opposing teams, they hear French, German, Russian.  Harry wishes he could understand them.  And Hermione, who is more accomplished with her spells than Harry and Ron, waves her wand as they pass each tent—and they can understand what's being said!

"Wouldn't that be awesome?" Ben interrupted.  "If you could do that?"

"Ben, that's in the Bible," I said

"Get OUT!" he shouted, and I told him about Pentecost, how the believers were all in one place when there was a rushing of wind and flames of fire and the Spirit descended, and they all began speaking about God in every kind of language.

He slapped the covers.  "WHY have I never heard this?" he whooped.

I don't know.  What an excellent story to tell to a 9 year old boy.  If I were the Sunday School teacher of 9-year-old boys, I would certainly want to tell them this tale.  An amazing story, mostly because it's true.

I was thinking about that conversation this week because in this Wednesday's Bible study, we are learning to tell that story.

They were all together in a house.  Suddenly, there was a sound like a rushing wind!  No one could tell where it was coming from, but it filled the whole house!  Then flames of fire settled on each ot them! God's Spirit came upon them, and they each began speaking in different languages as God's Spirit gave them the ability. 
- Acts 2:1-4

Why had Ben never heard this?  Probably because he grew up Baptist.  Baptists don't tell this story much.  Baptists, we don't exactly know what to do with the Holy Spirit.  When he shows up, the Order of Service is out the window. At least, our Order of Service is out the window.


"The wind blows where it wills, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going," Jesus said, and it made Nicodemus nervous.  It makes us nervous.  Which is ironic, because Jesus was introducing a topic that Baptists love to talk about: born again.

New life.


When the Holy Spirit shows up, God's Order of Service starts happening, and he is all about new life.

On the day the Holy Spirit showed up in this story, more than 3,000 people got new life! Have you ever heard that?


Are you all about new life?
Are you all about people being born again?

Then you should love this story.


Do you know why the Holy Spirit was given?
Do you know what happened when the Holy Spirit was given?
Do you know what God wants to do through His Spirit in you?

You should listen to this story. And find out.  Even if it makes you nervous.

As my friend Esther Burroughs says with a shiver, "Embrace the whoosh!"

Click here to hear the story of the gift of the Spirit
and download the Bible study.

Who will you tell this story to?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Love Story week 14: new life

For we were buried with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory the Father, so we too might be raised to walk in the newness of life.
- Romans 6:4

When I was growing up, our pastor said these words as he baptized people.  "Buried with him by baptism into death," he would say as he leaned them back under the water.  Lifting them up, he would proclaim, "Raised to walk in newness of life!"  As kids, we would snicker because we thought he was saying, "Raised to walk in nudeness of life."  We all wished someone would pop up out of the water—nude!  It never happened, but the thought of it was enough to shake us silly and get us shushed by disapproving adults nearby.  I've never seen a nude person come up out of the water, though some baptismal robes are startlingly thin when wet, and they should warn women about colored undergarments.  I did once see a woman's wig come off and float away when she came up out of the water.  She was a cancer survivor, so everyone applauded and she laughed, just glad to be alive—alive for now and alive forever.

Newness of life.  I think about those words every time I see someone baptized.  I thought about them on Sunday, Easter Sunday, when two women, sisters, were baptized in our service.  Newness of life.  What does it look like?   It looks like those sisters taking their first steps following Jesus.  It looks like the new engagement ring on my friend's finger and the glow in her face at lunch last Thursday.  It looks like the bride & groom turning to face the congregation this past Saturday evening.  It looks like the pink skin and tiny fingers of the new baby girl born to my friends last Wednesday.  It looks like the upturned faces of at least three women in our choir who survived breast cancer this year and stood up to sing praises on Easter Sunday.  It looks like my friend, shaken with grief, standing by her sister's graveside on Good Friday.  Her sister, who was alive here on earth last Friday and is now—unexpectedly but gloriously—alive in Heaven.  

Resurrection:  It means, literally, "to stand again."  In the Greek, anastasis.  To have the rug yanked from under you by unforeseen events, but find your footing.  To be blind-sighted by grief or joy or pain or love and make your way shakily into a new normal.  To be hurt and forgive.  To face change and make adjustments.  To not only survive, but thrive.  To leave behind and to become.

It shakes everything when God unveils newness of life.  What perfect timing that in Wednesday Bible study this week, we are learning to tell the story of the resurrection and Jesus' appearances to his followers afterward.  Every one of the them are stunned, shaken, confused, not sure what to believe, where to go next, whether to hide out.  All of them are getting their bearings, trying to stand again in God's new world.  Peter goes fishing.  When the world is strange and dangerous, the stablest place he knows is the sea.  And Jesus goes to find him there. To give Peter a chance to stand again.

Jesus is waiting by a fire.  The last time Peter saw Jesus, he was by a fire, and he failed his Master.  The rooster has crowed, the stone has rolled, and the world has turned upside down since then. Now, by the fire, Jesus asks three times, "Do you love me?"  Three times the chance to stand again, to say, "I do love you."  And to be given new life with a new assignment: "Take care of my people." 

Jesus told Peter that he would have his own work to do from God, and that it, too, would lead to death.  Looking over his shoulder at John, Peter asked, "What about him?" 

"What about him?" Jesus replied.  "Peter: You follow me."

It's so tempting to compare paths, isn't it?  To ask, "What about him?" instead of standing up and following.  The truth is that newness of life will look different for each of us.  It will come in different ways and shake us and wake us and call us to become.  We are all becoming.  We are all being buried and raised, only at different times and in different ways.  We are all blinking in the light, shaky on resurrection legs, stammering, "Yes, I do love you!"

Newness, like nudeness, is shocking.  It's a shock to our systems to find that we can stand again, start again.  To be given a Next.  To be raised by the power of the One who calls that which was not into being.  It's shocking to be always becoming.  We come out of the water gasping and flailing like a newborn taking her first breath, gripping the one who plunged us under.  And this happens every single day.

Every day is an Easter.  Ready to stand again?  It's a new world, but we know the way:  "Follow me."

Click here to hear the story of Jesus' resurrection 
and Peter's chance to stand again
and download the Bible study.

Who will you tell this story to this week?

Friday, April 18, 2014

TGIF: Good Friday

What I'm Trusting:
My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ the Solid Rock I stand!
All other ground in sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, his covenant, his blood
support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way
He then is all my hope and stay.
On Christ the Solid Rock I stand!
All other ground in sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.

What I'm Grateful for:
That though I am fickle and an emotional roller coaster, Jesus is steady.  This week in Wednesday Bible study, our story was a contrast in Peter and Jesus, as this awful day approached.  Peter is all over the board emotionally, but Jesus knows where has come from and where he is going.  He knows this is his hour.  And he is steadily heading toward it.

There is a moment in that story, when Peter cuts off a guard's ear, that Jesus says, "Did you think for one minute I would not do what my Father planned?"

These days, I'm an emotional roller coaster myself.  And so I'm grateful that Jesus is steady and always steadying me.  In the course of any given day, I feel like it/don't feel like it, step up/back down, change my mind.  I'm grateful Jesus did not change his.  He went to the cross, no turning back, which is why we remember on Good Friday.

What Inspires me:
New life, which is everywhere in all forms.  Green sprouting up everywhere.  And, of course, resurrection.

Just the other day I had a wonderful conversation with a friend who is getting married.  I got to listen to her hopes and dreams, her fears, to consider with her what a wonderful and terrifying thing it is to begin a new life with someone.

I'm inspired by the new life Ben Worley is building for himself as a young adult on his own.  How brave he is with his many talents, like this new podcast The Lemonade Stand.

I'm inspired by good friends Jim and Lisa Baker, who are beginning a new life after retiring from amazing years of church leadership.

What's Fun:
Today Matt sent us this picture of him playing Thomas in the King of Kings Easter passion play. This picture makes me happy on so many levels.  Remembering Brentwood Baptist Easter pageant rehearsals, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus and the disciples shot them with water squirt guns.  Remembering hours putting together all those costumes with Mildred Hoppe, standing knee deep in fabric scraps.  Remembering the year Matt was 3, when he played a tiny Aladdin-like king in the parade of Wise Men.  Knowing that he is celebrating this Easter in South Africa, celebrating in a church that is a s dear to us at Brentwood Baptist. Knowing that all over the world this weekend believers will dress up in Biblical garb or Sunday best, sing loud, get up with the dawn to celebrate the truth that Christ is risen and we have new life in him.

Happy Easter!

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?