We Want a King Pt. 2

Part 2 of a short story series for Holy Week.

What I love about political turmoil, is that you can take advantage of the fears of people. I mean, when people are insecure about their futures, you can make them any kind of promise, and they will latch on to it. The promise becomes a distraction of sorts, because while people have their hopes set on the promise, you can steal their rights out from under them. Yes, political turmoil contains just the right conditions for thieves. That’s why I got in the business.

Dominating powers pay well to have their agendas pushed. I am fortunate to work for the ruling religious class of my day. I wouldn’t call myself religious, but I’ll fake it for the cash. Pharisees are pretty eager to spend their fortunes if it means buying themselves position, and as a thief I’m pretty apt to accept their deals.

It’s just too easy, I mean really! Take for instance the political rally yesterday when that guy Jesus came riding through town on a donkey. The crowd went wild! They were shouting and dancing, waving palm branches, and making such fools of themselves falling all over this guy, that they weren’t minding their wallets, their children, or their houses back home. Well, I wasn’t exactly “on the time clock” yesterday, but, come on, it was too much of a temptation not to pass up. I stole some things. Okay, I stole a lot of things…for myself. Every good thief needs to be tipped once in a while.

I don’t know what people see in this Jesus guy. I’ve heard that he supports paying taxes to Caesar. Not only that, when corporal punishment was due for an adulteress caught in the act, (a scenario I helped set up with the Pharisees for a handsome sum), Jesus refused to stone her, and somehow pursuaded the others with rocks in their hands to put them down and walk away. Absurd! This is who they want for king?

I usually keep my political views to myself, so forgive me, but there are lots of things about this guy that just don’t add up. However, I’ve heard some of my bosses talking about getting rid of Jesus…now that’s a paycheck that might add up just right. Who cares about politics when cash is being doled out, right?

We Want a King

A short story series for Holy Week

I think I get it now. Our country is run by tyrants. We believe we can be better than this. We have a dream for a better country…one without oppression, where our children can grow up in freedom and opportunity. A country where everyone lives from the same moral page, and the Golden Rule is still esteemed.

We have some fighters among us trying to start a revolution, but we are getting weary having to wait.

Whoever our next leader is has to be strong. He has to be able to throw off the oppression of the over-reaching government. He has to re-calibrate our monetary systems and get rid of the dishonest scales and the pilfering tax collecting agencies. He must be strong and give us national pride again. Give us something to believe in!!

They say our next leader is riding in today from the East Gate of the city on a donkey. You can be sure we will be there lining the streets. We have large palm branches to wave, and slogans to shout!

“Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!!”

Oh, did you think I was talking about America?

Yes, this candidate looks very promising!! He appears humble now, we just need to see if he has any military training. Someone said he once kicked dishonest merchants out of our local religious temple by making a whip out of cords and throwing tables over. Yes, we could use a guy like that in our national government! Clean up house!!

What we need is more force! More “in your face”leadership! Someone who can’t be bullied! Someone who is willing to unite our country again. We want a king!!

“Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!!!”

…….

If this guy can’t get the job done, I say we kill Him. We’d be better off to release a murdering criminal back into society than deal with another lame candidate.

Lucky for us, crosses are being constructed this week.palm branches

Welcome to Holy Week. AD 30

The Proverbs 31 Husband

Have you ever wondered about the Proverbs 31 woman? How did she get to be so admired? As I look at wives all around me, I find that how the husband treats them makes a big difference. I’ve seen many Proverbs 31 wives belittled and unappreciated, and others flourish and grow. Her character is paramount, but her husband is also key in her success.

Upon reading through the Proverbs 31 passage again, I put the husband in mind, and these are some of the things I have extrapolated:

The Proverbs 31 husband has found a wife of great value. He married someone that he can place his full confidence in. He paid attention to his would-be wife before he married her, and found that she was someone who was kind, faithful, who loved others, and who worked on her own character and person-hood, and he admired that in her. Upon marrying her, the husband came to realize that this woman was worth more than rubies. And so he treats her as such.

He is not threatened in the least by the fact that this woman is ambitious, and works hard. He notices the amount of work she accomplishes and either provides extra help for her by hiring assistants, or gives her full permission to hire whatever she needs to accomplish her tasks.

He isn’t jealous of her ability to produce. In fact, he gives her room to grow in business. She can purchase a field, she can plant a vineyard, she can make a profit. She has learned to work hard for her family which is a character trait he admired in her from the beginning, and although he does not burden her with the task of providing financially for the needs of the whole family, he gives her room to grow and bless the family.

But it’s not just her family that benefits. The husband has also opened his home to the poor and needy. Knowing that he and his wife together make a great team, he is not selfish with his house or possessions, but lives with an open hand as God directs he and his wife to help meet the needs of others.

Between the two of them, they have been good stewards of their own family. Their children are prepared for winters as well as summers. They are constantly attending to the needs of their own household, and out of that, the needs of the world around them.

At the city gate, this man is well respected. He is not embarrassed of the fact that his wife is successful. He has no need to keep her secluded, or isolated, or dependent because she has proven by her character that she is a blessing to her husband, family, and neighbors. He doesn’t feel threatened as a man, and is not known to belittle his wife among his peers.

He speaks highly of her wisdom and character. Even the local merchants know of her integrity of work and skill, and they praise her for her value, and that does not threaten him.

She remained a Proverbs 31 wife because that was her character, but along the way she was given many opportunities to change her character. She could have become vain, over-bearing, selfish, proud, greedy, negative, idle, a gossip, bitter, or invisible. But she chose over and over to love her husband, to serve her family, to bless her community, and she succeeded, also,  because she had a Proverbs 31 husband who did not squelch her passions, limit her resources, become jealous of her successes, or belittle her efforts. Instead, he made room for her successes and helped to resource her efforts.

She is a woman who fears the Lord above all. That is the most important trait her husband saw in her. Because of this, he ensured that their household would be one that would fear the Lord, and would serve Him first. He did not allow spiritual passivity in his own life or the lives of his family.

He realized that how he treated his wife would determine their families success. He also realized that his children would repeat his behavior, and he was responsible to “set the bar” as to how his wife should be treated. Consequently, her children rose up to call her “Blessed”. They did this because their father set the example.

He decided early on to let her be praised at the city gates, and he would be her head cheer leader.

Thank God for Proverbs 31 husbands! I happen to have one, and am so blessed because of him.

Pass It On

2015-06-07 18.40.08.jpgThis particular blog that I am writing today passes through a lot of pain. I feel compelled to write it for the sake of others who may be standing in the place I will describe. I am praying as I write it, that my words articulate well the message, and my heart faithfully carries the meaning.

I was the favorite child of my father when I was little. I was the baby girl. With one older brother almost three years my senior, and another older brother in heaven, I was the grand finale of children (or so my parents thought).

I was about three years old when I began to notice that my dad treated my mother poorly. One poignant memory was when my mom and dad were arguing, and my mom gathered my brother and I and headed to the car to go to town. My father chased my mother down, grabbed her car keys and threw them into our overgrown horse pasture. I remember spending a good portion of the rest of the afternoon helping my mom find those keys. We never did get to leave. This was one of many incidents where I watched my father overpower my mother. And if it wasn’t overpowering her physically, he would use his words to make her feel unlovely, rejected, small, and insignificant. He was a man who lived in constant fear of losing power.

Maybe that’s why my brother became his next target. Boys can grow up to be men. Men can overpower other men. My Dad seemed to work a plan to ensure that his son would never succeed at manhood by using the same methods on him as he did my mother. He belittled him, gave him chore after chore, bullied him, never praised him for his work, and rarely showed him affection. He was determined to always be dominate, and make my brother subordinate.

I, on the other hand, brought my Dad a lot of attention. I could sing. I began soloing as a singer at 5 years old. My Dad decided we should be touring musical family, so he bought sound equipment, background tracks, and we as an entire family sang together. My Dad had a good voice, my mother sang like an angel, and my brother had a great voice that he would lend to the “ministry”. Maybe because I was the youngest, and a girl, and didn’t mind soloing, I got a lot of attention. And that attention was great for me. It affirmed my gifting, it encouraged me to keep going, and it taught me how to express thoughts to a large group of people. The attention shined favorably upon my parents as well. My Dad soaked it up. He could take credit for such talent, and he was esteemed in the places we went for his “beautiful godly family.”

The abuses of my mother and my brother continued. As a child I observed it, not having any power to stop it. I made mental notes: “Stay on Dad’s good side.” “Always look busy.”
“Just keep singing.” There were times, though, that even my cuteness could not overcome the anger and rage of my father, and I would be a recipient of his wrath. It was always out of control, and I still shudder in my memories of it.

I was around nine years old when I formulated a plan that I was sure would turn the tide in our family. I noticed that my Dad would hug me in front of my brother, and bark out orders to him to go do some sort of chore. While he would hold me, he would belittle my brother and tell him what a failure he was. I watched this scenario play out while I was within the grasp of my Dad’s “love”. I couldn’t stand for it anymore.

My plan was to stop hugging my Dad. If my Dad didn’t get hugs from me, maybe he would reach out to my brother! Maybe he would notice the deficit, and realize he needed to do something about it. Once he noticed the loss, I mused, he would begin hugging my brother, and then, I could begin hugging him again and everything would be even. It was a perfect plan in my mind.

Oh, but you can’t force love. You can’t mamipulate kindness or compassion out of someone who doesn’t want to give it. You can only make them more and more fearful of losing power by changing your role. That’s when the tables began turning.

My Dad saw my lack of affection as rejection of him which began to complicate and compound his insecurities. He needed a way to get back what I was not giving. I wouldn’t budge. He became angry, and I received his wrath. And although I hated how he treated me, something about it was satisfying because at least my mother and brother were no longer alone. Now we were all on the same playing field.

That sick satisfaction worked its way into depression, and I along with my mother and brother were suicidal and wanted out of living.

My younger sister came into the picture when I was thirteen years old. I think it was her birth that was the catalyst to give us all the courage to walk out of the abuse. Knowing the kind of childhood we had up until then, My brother and I promised to help our mom get out. My brother got a night job to provide for us. My mom borrowed money from dear friends to hire a lawyer and file for divorce. Our church helped to set us up with temporary housing while in transition, and we stayed in a homeless shelter, and later, a motel. The lunch ladies at the school I attended sent me home with the lunch left-overs so that we could have a reheatable dinner at night. I took on the role as second Mama for my little sister while my Mom pursued training for a job. I was sixteen when my parents finally divorced. My brother was 18, and my little sister was almost three.

The one thing a child always wants to hear from their parents is “I am proud of you.” They want to their parents to reflect on their child’s accomplishments throughout grade school, junior high, high-school, and beyond, and say “You are so amazing!” “I love you!” Girls want to hear that they are beautiful, that they are a prize, and they want to hear their parents speak into their future with words of hope, encouragement, and blessing. Boys want to hear that they are capable, strong, great learners and future leaders. They need to hear praise for the works of their hands, and the efforts of their intellect. They need to be told they are becoming great men, and their efforts are appreciated and invaluable.

It starts in your home.

You can watch movies like “8 Seconds”, and “Ragamuffin”, and many others that show the results of adult men growing up without the praise of their fathers. It will rip your heart out. Un-praised men will always be looking for approval. Maybe in a virtual world, or by becoming work-a-holics, becoming addicted to porn or alcohol, or struggling with their sexual identity.  Likewise, girls without praise grow up to either seek affection from multiple men, become work-a-holics, live a life of servitude, or struggle with their sexual identities as they wonder “what’s so great about being female?”

You don’t have to be an abuser by nature to withhold this most important piece of your child’s well-being. You might feel you have “righteous reasons” for your lack of affection and praise. “Well, I don’t want my children to become proud”, you may say to yourself. “They should instinctively know I love them without me having to say it.” or “If I praise them too much they will have too much confidence and leave me, and I can’t risk that.”

Whatever has tricked you out of the greatest blessing you have to pass on, is complete crap. COMPLETE CRAP, I said.

Moms, Dads, own your wounds. Own your shortcomings. Be responsible for what you are or are not providing for your family, and while you still have breath in your lungs, and the ability to communicate love and gratitude–do it! It doesn’t matter if your children are 50 years old now. If you never gave them that piece of the puzzle–your affirmation, spoken love, or affection, get to it!

If you are raising children now and you are tempted to spend your breath on belittling them, or speaking doom and gloom into their future–Stop it! Put your hand on your mouth. Don’t let your children hear you belittle their siblings. Don’t let your children hear you break them down with your words. Discipline is correction, not dismembering.

Life is precious. Love is powerful. Your words and actions will outlive you. If you have anything left in your heart to bless your children with, by any and all means–pass it on.

 

 

A Letter to My Budding Artist

2004-01-04 13.31.47Dear One,

You are making a beautiful self portrait from little colorful pieces of paper and cardboard. It is a mosaic, that requires you to step back and take a look at it before the whole picture comes to together. In response to your question, “How is life like a mosaic?” I would like to offer these thoughts:

Life is like a mosaic, with many colorful pieces.  Not every piece as it is being added makes sense. When we are living the experiences, we are only able to see individual pieces like the ones you used in your mosaic. Sometimes we like what we see, and other times we wonder if something else would have been a better choice.

Here is something interesting though to consider:

When you were making your mosaic, you were choosing the pieces. You had an idea what the outcome should look like, so you chose pieces that would give you that desired outcome. You, the creator and designer, have opportunities before the picture is finished, to re-arrange some pieces, remove some pieces, replace some pieces, or alter the picture until it is just right. You have something in mind–a purpose that causes you to have creative control over what you are making.

If your picture had emotions, thought and a voice, it might ask you along the way “Why did you choose that piece? I don’t like that color.” or “Ouch! That one was glued. why did you remove it?” You see, the picture is the thing in process. It cannot see the end result ahead of time. It can’t objectively decide what pieces it needs and what pieces it doesn’t need because it is incomplete.

Art doesn’t make itself. Art is made by a creator and designer who has an end goal in mind of a masterpiece.

Our lives our designed and crafted by God, who has limitless creativity, and unlimited resources. Added to that, He loves and cares for the things He has made. He works with us, and for us–allowing us to see the beautiful pieces and be a part of the choosing of the colors. But there are those dark pieces–that add the shading, the contrast, the deep lines that draw the boundaries for the beautiful and cause the colors to “pop”. These are the ones we don’t always understand at first when they are added, but become important for the picture to take shape. These are the ones we question. Our inability to see the whole picture can sometimes cause us to doubt the Artist.

So remember this:

The Designer of our lives is not distant or unconcerned with our needs. In fact He is so vested in our outcome that He staked His own life for ours. He made a promise that reads: “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” Philippians 1:6 (And many many other promises that He is keeping.)

So like your picture, you and I are the product of a Designer and Artist. One who takes great pride in His work, and great care for His art. One day we will see the finished product and marvel at His expertise, but for now, we trust.

If He can cause the sun to rise every morning, and the planets to orbit in their places, the seasons to change and produce new life, then He is trustworthy and able to make something beautiful out of us! And already, I get to see His beauty in you!

Love,

Mom

It’s Not Your Cancer

2013-09-04 20.40.27

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/11/05/man-killed-by-his-tapeworm-cancer/75207608/

It was a startling article that appeared in many newspapers, and online websites this past week about a man who passed away from cancer, but his death was unique in the fact that the cancerous tumors in his body, when biopsied, did not contain his DNA, but instead bore the DNA of a tapeworm that had taken up residency in his body. The foreign, uninvited parasite that made its home in the physical frame of the man was harboring a disease of its own, that transferred to the man and caused cancerous cells to become multiplied and attached inside of him.

This case raises many questions, and will likely launch many scientific studies, theories, hypothesis, and investigations. Pork may drop from people’s menus for awhile, and parasite cleanses will likely begin to sell like hotcakes. Many fears will lead to many drastic decisions–some beneficial, some not. And it got me thinking….

I live in a small town. Many people have lived in this town generationally. Great-grandparents are here, and so are some of their great-grandchildren. Living in small communities around the same groups of people fosters some wonderful community, but it also does another thing. It gives an ample “host body” for certain parasites. Let me explain.

It was something I first heard about in my first year of Bible School, and it was spoken about as a warning: “Don’t pick up another person’s offense.” Here is the scenario: Someone we are close to has been offended or hurt by someone else in our circle of community, and they are walking wounded. Our desire to assuage the pain of our friend/relative causes us to empathize with the person, and begin to feel what they feel. As time passes on, if our friend/relative has not reconciled the issue or pain with the offending person, they likely begin to let a seed of bitterness begin to grow in their heart. The wound begins to multiply, to grow, and even to continue bleeding even more toxic than its original state. Again we are faced with the decision to internalize their pain, and pick up their offense as our own. We begin our own personal crusade on our friend’s behalf, and we begin to despise the person/persons who hurt them. We join in the conversations that tear them apart. We begin to find ourselves finding as many opportunities as possible to paint that person in the worst light possible so as to discourage others from putting any faith into the offender, and we feel so noble in our cause. We are defending our friend after all.

What we don’t see is the parasite taking up residence in our hearts. The poisons of bitterness and jadedness that were present in our friend have now taken up residence in our hearts and minds and now we suffer from the same disease.

I don’t know how many times I have seen this and experienced it over my short lifetime. Not just offenses, but I’ve seen people take up another’s doubts, and live them as if they belong to themselves. There are entire families who won’t speak to other families because of something they “heard”, or something they refused to resolve. People who will never darken the door of a church because of what happened to their mom as a child who attended church and had her feeling hurt by someone irresponsible or careless. People all around us are on the verge of dying from someone else’s disease.

Here is what happens to you when you pick up another’s offense: You begin to carry the parasite. Even the person who was initially offended has the opportunity to forgive and be set free from the parasite of bitterness, and sometimes they choose that right choice (I pray they do). But you, you can keep carrying on with a chip on your shoulder that you put there for the rest of your life if you choose not to deal with it. You deliberately swallowed the tape worm, and now you are being poisoned slowly.

Stop.

Consider for a moment how many offenses you are hanging on to. How many are directly related to you, and how many are the misplaced empathies of another? What about your doubts? How may of those that you carry are actually yours? How many things do you believe without ever investigating their validity? How many cancers are you dying from?

The Bible tells us that the only parasite cleanse for our spirits is forgiveness. We have to let the prisoner go free. We have to release the wound to God and ask Him to heal us and to do the right thing by the offender. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” is part of the prayer Jesus himself taught us in Matthew 6:12.

How are offenses washed away? Through the Blood of Jesus.

Because of the death of Jesus, as the penalty and payment for our many offenses against God and one another, we have access to a powerful, transcendent reality of a heart made clean and renewed by asking God to forgive us, and trusting in Jesus to wipe our sins away “as far as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12)

There are many things worth dying for. Someone else’s cancer is not.

Can you know?

Dear Friend,
Please forgive me, I have been thinking a lot on our discussion, and there are some things I just can’t “shake”. You dug in your heels somewhere…I guess I don’t really know when, and ended your search for truth. Maybe it was when you looked around you and saw people who claimed to know God, but behaved like the devil. You work with a few. Yes, this is disheartening to say the least. I can understand your hesitancy to jump in. Also, there are Christians who claim to love God and hate their neighbor…(i.e…Westboro Baptist Church) and there just is no coherent explanation for their dichotomy of espoused beliefs. This is frustrating to me as well.

Sadly, in the eyes of our culture, there isn’t a way to be disassociated from the Christians who claim to love God, but do not live the lifestyle. The world will always lump us all together, and there will always be abusers. Always.

There will always be thieves who will break into cars and steal them in the night. Have we refused the driving of automobiles? When was the last time we boycotted eating because the local grocery store tripled the price of food for tourist season? Because there are dirty people in the world, should we then disbelieve in soap? No. We reason that the benefit of using the products in question out-weighs the association with those who abuse/misuse, or ignore them.

Herein is your dilemma and mine: God does not cease to be real because we don’t want to associate with His “followers”, nor does He cease to exist because we don’t want to seek Him. God is, and God will be the same unchanging, all-powerful, immutable, all-knowing, completely sufficient, Creator, sustainer, and Fulfiller and Righteous Judge of our lives whether or not we ever give Him credit or acknowledge Him.

Now I know you said that you have heard that God is good, and even though you claim to be an agnostic, you seem to be hinging your life on the very fact of God’s goodness. You are willing to gamble with this lifetime and go on living “not knowing” if He exists, because somewhere in the back of your mind you are sure when your life is over, if you find out He does exist, He will have mercy and grace on you, and not punish you for your lack of knowing in the “here and now”. You are so certain for someone who claims uncertainty. So, let me point out something that maybe you are missing. Your certainty that you will be “okay” in the hands of God after you die, shows that your “uncertainty” about His existence is actually an excuse not to seek Him. You don’t want to know that He exists. And perhaps for the reasons stated above (as well as others I am sure), because once you acknowledge Him, you are then faced with a decision to believe in Him and that might shake up everything you claim to know. (And it will).

If there is a God, and if He is good, then He must have given you some sort of hint to His goodness. And if He gave you any hint at all to His goodness, then there must be a way He has revealed Himself to you. And if He has revealed any part of Himself, then there must be a way to know Him. If there is a way to know Him, then He is knowable and you are not searching.

Might I encourage you to look again?photo-3

Isaiah 55:6-7

6 Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“If you want to know God, you must allow Him the freedom to tell you who He is.” Dr. Tony Evans

You Need a Habit

photo-3I am reading about persecuted people around the world both past and present. Through tear-filled eyes, I am looking at the most anathema of tortures inflicted on the most vulnerable of people, and I can barely take it in.

I know that it has been said “What comes out of you in persecution is what you have put in over your lifetime.” Your resolve, and determination are factors in your survival, but they have to be buoyed by something that transcends yourself, and they are exercised in something called a habit.

I live in this post-modern society that looks at prayer, scripture memorization, fellowship with believers, and routine as something “overly religious” and unnecessary for life. In the name of Grace and freedom in Christ, many dismiss the ideas that create a rote way of living, and a discipline of godliness. “Hey, I’m not religious, I just love Jesus.” That is a great starting point for sure, and I would hope that all disciplines in life would flow from a love for God as we reciprocate His love for us. But what have you invested in your heart and spirit to carry you through persecution? What have you invested in your life to feed someone else with? What do you plan to pass on to the next generation who may have it harder than you?

These are questions I am asking myself as I read stories of persecution.

In each story of persecution and torture I am reading, the foremost discipline for the saint was prayer and worship. In whatever capacity they could sing, speak, lift their heads, or their hands, they would do it. Daily. Hourly. Every minute they were conscious. Expressing love and devotion to God, and calling on His strength to sustain them through the cruelest of suffering.

Second, what the person had memorized, sustained them. Coupled with that memorization was a habit, a discipline, a practice where that memorization worked its way into their daily life in prison, in isolation, and captivity. Scripture verses. Entire chapters of the Bible. Hymns. Songs. Poetry that lifted the spirit. They wrote the words on paper, inscribed them on cement blocks, sang them out loud, recited them in their minds, and prayed them. Daily. Hourly. Every minute they were conscious.

I’m looking at my children, and the generation they represent. I am looking at the gaping hole of disciplines and memorization of scripture. I am looking at the lack of “habit” that purposefully instills scripture, prayer, worship, and fellowship in their lives. So, I am looking at my responsibility.

I am looking at the wave of persecution headed our way. The kind of persecution that our brothers and sisters around the world have already suffered, and continue to suffer today. The kind of persecution we as Americans mistakenly think we will evade because we are just “too great a nation” to ever go through that kind of terror. And I am asking the questions of habit, discipline, memorization, prayer, fellowship, and encouragement.

I exhort you–to leap beyond blogs and Facebook. Attend church while you still can. Take your children to church. Memorize  and learn scripture while it is available to hold in your hand. Learn to pray and listen. Hearing God’s voice is the result of the discipline of prayer, and the desired outcome. Encourage one another while you still have opportunity to do so. Fill yourself to overflowing with God’s thoughts, and sing, sing sing. Pass this on to your children, and anyone God gives you an opportunity to speak to.

You need a habit. Start today.

1 Thessalonians 5 New International Version (NIV)

5 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us. 26 Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. 27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

The Singing of Birds

Homer SunriseThey’re back.  The silence of winter has been broken by the melodies of songbirds.

The bleakness of long dark days, that wane into long dark cold nights has been interrupted–even changed.

From the boughs of spruce trees and the barren limbs of alders and cottonwood come the melodic tones of the songbirds, who having completed their long migrations from the southern hemisphere, have perched in my trees to welcome my mornings.

It’s another sign of the promise of a faithful God who promised that there would be seasons, and that seasons would change.  For every Winter there is a Spring, and for every dark night there is a promise of new light, warmth, and fresh beginnings of a day full of new mercy.

The ground beneath my feet softens, changing from frozen earth to thin layers of mud that gradually become deeper layers of moisture and soil as the ice melts away.  Puddles form on the surface of the lawn and the gravel driveways–waiting for the thaw that will absorb them into the ground.

Dormant seeds begin to feel the trickle of water washing in around them, and the gradual warming of the earth by the sun. These seeds will shiver and shed their outer shell in order to forge their path through the dirt as fresh sprouts in the days ahead.

More than the fragrance of fresh coffee in the morning, or the inviting smells of breakfast on the stove, the rays of sunshine in the early morning hours is the most welcome view, and I soak in its rays as it climbs up over the mountain landscape to perch in the sky.  Every day it climbs a little higher than the last.  Every evening it lingers just a few moments longer. My world is brighter by the day.

In mid-winter I forget what the song of the birds sounds like.  The earth seems silenced and hushed then, and the darkness bids me to stay inside and keep warm as I can.  But then there comes that morning–so unexpected when, before my alarm wakes me from sleep, I am roused to life by singing.  They are back!

The songs of the birds tell me to dream again.  They tell me that there are more birds to follow as the days grow brighter and the ground grows softer, so keep watching and listening.  Their melodies recite again the promise that God is with me and that He has not forgotten.

Genesis 8:22

22 “As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”

Matthew 6:26

26 Look 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?

Integrity–What is it Worth?

Dear Sons,

I am convinced more and more that the rise of Atheism in our country rides on the noticeable loss of integrity in humanity. It is becoming harder and harder to find men and women of character who keep their word, honor their commitments, or even make commitments. Relationships are more disposable than the iPhone, and “ever after” is just for fairy tale movies–or so it seems. Behaving like an animal seems easier overall, so, accepting that maybe you are one is tempting. But Sons, this ought not be. Because there is a God, and because integrity is His character, and because you are made in His image, you can live a life of integrity, and so can your children.

Integrity is defined as:  “steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.”

Notice the words “steadfast adherence”?– This is the kind of perseverance that does the right thing despite others’ opinions.

What is the moral or ethical code?  Well, that is what we find in the character of God.  He is full of purpose, creativity, design, goodness, love, and steadfastness.  Any actions we commit that violate our purpose, or our neighbors’ purpose become actions outside of integrity. Remember, people are sacred to God.

I am not asking you to do something easy.  No, on the contrary, I am asking you to engage in a battle that with your comfort, desires, and weaknesses that you will continue throughout your lifetime.  Integrity will ask you to do the right thing when no one else around does.

Think about it a minute.  Integrity asks you to build a giant boat called an ark when no one else in your neighborhood is doing it.  The project extends for over a century–not just a month or two–but over 100 years!  There has never been a flood, nor rain from the sky, and you look like an idiot. (Noah)

Integrity asks you to keep your promises to your family, when no one else around you cares at all.  You will work hard, you may struggle, you will go without, you may lose sleep, you will be tempted to give up, and give it all away.  People around you will always make you some pretty nice offers–alcohol addictions, affairs, “extra work projects”, ways to cheat, to lie, to get by with minimum requirements in character.  They may even all seem less “stressed” than you.

Psalm 73 paints this picture of the frustrations of living a life of integrity.  Verses 2-14 say this:

2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
3 For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and strong.
5 They are free from common human burdens;
they are not plagued by human ills.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
they clothe themselves with violence.
7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
their evil imaginations have no limits.
8 They scoff, and speak with malice;
with arrogance they threaten oppression.
9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
and their tongues take possession of the earth.
10 Therefore their people turn to them
and drink up waters in abundance.
11 They say, “How would God know?
Does the Most High know anything?”
12 This is what the wicked are like—
always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.
13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
and have washed my hands in innocence.
14 All day long I have been afflicted,
and every morning brings new punishments.

Someday you might be where this Psalmist is.

The integrity of the boat builder seems worthless until the fountains of the deep burst open and the heavens begin pouring out rain in torrents that flood the entire face of the earth. It’s then that the people realized his boat was built large enough to bring them along, and be a refuge—too late.

The integrity of the family man/woman seems like a frustration until the friends around them are on their third, fourth or fifth marriage, and their children are sitting in prisons and rehab centers. It is then that you will see the benefit of honesty, boundaries, hard work, and faithfulness. But integrity, when lived out in relationship with God Himself goes beyond the here and now.
064When you live a life of integrity, you do not always see the outcomes right away.  Sometimes the full fruit of your life is seen two or three generations after you, but don’t get me wrong…your integrity is noticed right now by those around you.  Believe me, I have talked with your teachers. How you choose to live, and whether you live a life that is in keeping with God’s moral code and ethic, makes a huge impact in your world and mine.

No, I didn’t say it was easy.  Steadfastness is characterized by trouble, pain, and struggle that accompany perseverance.  It is also rewarded by peace, blessing, redemption, and joy for those who know you and whose lives you touch.

Verses 16-28 gives us the payoff:

16 When I tried to understand all this,
it troubled me deeply
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny.
18 Surely you place them on slippery ground;
you cast them down to ruin.
19 How suddenly are they destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors!
20 They are like a dream when one awakes;
when you arise, Lord,
you will despise them as fantasies.
21 When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.
23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
27 Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
28 But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.

(Bold emphasis mine).

Some days it may look fruitless to live a life of integrity before the Lord.  Maybe those around you who don’t really care about character will be living it up, and doing just fine from appearances.  Or maybe, as the Bible tells us, they are sliding quickly down a slope that they will not be able to stop, but that will deposit them firmly at God’s judgment seat.

The Bible is clear.  If you walk with God, you will never walk alone.  He will always be with you.  When you are weary, and are tempted to jettison your commitments, you can call on God to strengthen you and give you courage to finish what you started.  Remember, even Jesus called out to God for strength when He was facing the cross.  Some assignments seem too overwhelming to accomplish, but God will help you.

Integrity looks like the Son of God carrying a cross up a hill to be executed for the crimes He did not commit–our crimes.

Hebrews 12:2-3 

2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

When people are longing to see God at work in our world, one of the first places they will look is at you and me; and when you have God at work in your life, there is no excuse for living a life of poor character.

Remember Sons, this life isn’t all that there is.  There is an eternity yet to live.  So love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength while you live, and when you stand before Him when your life is over, you will have no regrets–only joy.

What is integrity worth? Everything.