The sun was shining and a light breeze blew back my hair. It felt great! I looked at the train tracks in front of me and felt grateful for the calm I felt inside. It wouldn’t be long before I would be clackety clack riding the train to my destination, something that my anxious thoughts kept me from enjoying the week before. It’s amazing what a week of adequate rest and sufficient quiet time can do for the soul!
As I waited for the train, a young man sat down on the bench next to me. He immediately engaged me in conversation and before long asked me what I had been reading; that’s when the conversation took an interesting turn.
“The Bible,” I said, “well, it’s really the Bible written in story format.”
“That’s probably good because no one can sit and just read through the Bible the way you could a novel,” he said. I could tell by his demeanor that we might have a differing philosophical view of the book. His next comment confirmed my suspicions.
“After all,” he said, “it’s not really…you know…I mean it’s not like…”
“Literal?” I offered.
“Yeah, they are like stories and metaphors and parables.”
“I think it’s literal,” I said. “I mean, sure there are parables and metaphors and stories, but I believe there are literal principles that can be drawn from them. And some parts are just straight literal.”
“But you can’t prove it. It’s just faith.”
“Every world view requires faith, even atheism. But based on the evidence I have seen, my belief in the God of the Bible requires the least amount of faith.”
“I think people should be allowed to believe whatever they want.”
“You know what?” I said. “I do, too. After all, God gives you and me and him and her and that person over there ~ He gives all of us the freedom to choose Him or not. Who am I to argue with God?”
He was an interesting young man, and by interesting I mean he made me a little uncomfortable, and not just because we had differing views on life. I can’t explain it but he just made me uncomfortable; still, I was willing to continue having a conversation while we waited for the train.
As if to catch me off guard, and looking me straight in the eyes, as he had been doing the whole time, he asked, “What do you think love is?”
I paused for a moment, again feeling uncomfortable, when suddenly the epitamy of love came to my mind.
“Jesus,” I said with confidence. His eyebrows raised.
“Jesus is love,” I continued. “He was perfect, never did a thing wrong, and yet he willingly suffered a torturous, humiliating death for people who would reject him and not return his love. That’s real love.”
“Yes, but in the garden he asked God if he really had to do it.”
“But that’s not all he said,” I corrected, “he finished by saying, ‘but not my will be done but YOURS.”
“But he was scared, he didn’t want to do it.”
“No, he didn’t. Don’t forget he was fully human and experienced all our emotions. Wouldn’t you be freaked out? He was so distressed he sweat blood.”
“Well, blood came out of his face,” he now corrected.
“Okay, he had drops of blood on his face. And yet, he still sacrificed himself.”
“You know what I think? I think that there is a universe and it is all around us and it knows everything that happens and what we think and what we do,” he said.
“I do, too, but what you choose to call ‘the universe’ I call God.”
By now the train came and the question shifted to “Is this our train?”
I am not sure if I verbalized my next thought or not before we boarded the train, but I hope I did.
It was, “And one day God will come back to judge us on all those things we did and the thoughts we had.”
I wish I had the chance to ask, “If the universe is keeping tabs on what we all do, then what’s good enough? By whose standards will you judge?” To me, that is a thought provoking question. And the follow up question, then what does the universe do once it has passed judgment?
A day of judgment is coming and the standard for judging isn’t arbitrary, as it is in so many other world views. The standard is perfect holiness. I can hear my young train traveler now, “No one can meet that standard!” He would be right, no one can.
And so we will be judged and we will be found guilty – let’s face it, even if we lowered the standard, how many of us can say we were even as good as we COULD or SHOULD have been? Everyone I know could be better; not even perfect, just better, and we can’t even meet that standard.
There we stand, found guilty, condemned for not meeting the standard. Yet, that is not the end of the story. Because of his great love for us, God made a way, he had a plan for our redemption, a perfect sacrifice who would pay the penalty for our guilt and do the time for us so we could go free. Jesus. Perfect. Perfect love. The Way. The only way. The way to reunite a broken, imperfect human being with a perfect and holy creator.
Oh, yes, friend, I also believe people should have the right to believe what they want – they should have the right to choose. They can choose to pay the penalty for their own imperfection or they can choose to accept the sacrifice Jesus made on their behalf. It’s a choice.
There is a train coming, a train bound for glory – the old African American spiritual called it The Gospel Train. Just like the train I am on now, it also has a destination – heaven. And just like today, for me and for my fellow travelers, a payment will be required to board; but only one form of payment will suffice on that train ~ Jesus. If you don’t have him, you ain’t gettin’ on. And yes, I’m being literal and metaphorical, my train traveling friend.
Sacrifice. I sat in church this morning listening to the pastor talk about being a servant to others, and I began to think about my focus word for this past week ~ sacrifice. Had I ever really been sacrificial? I thought. And if so, at what times in my life? Two thoughts immediately jumped to mind ~ children and marriage. And just as quickly, the word joy also filled my thoughts.If any of you have ever been fully committed to another human being, maybe as a spouse, a parent or a caregiver, then you know full well that fulfilling that commitment will involve sacrifice, and probably lots of it. Over the years I have sacrificed time, emotions, physical comfort, money, pride, vanity, pleasure, preference and many other things out of love for my children and husband. Oh yes, I have sacrificed. To love well requires sacrifice! Now before you start thinking either (1) what a prideful woman I am or (2) you should submit my application for sainthood, know that I have also lived very selfishly alongside my children and spouse, choosing my own wants and needs over theirs many times. I said I have been sacrificial, not a perfect saint!
But with those sacrifices of self I also experienced an indescribable joy ~a sense that this is what I was supposed to be doing. In those times when I have poured myself out into them and their lives, I have felt that I was being refilled with joy. Not always, but often.
When I helped carry the burden of a broken heart, or worked to pay for school tuition, or set aside my time to be there for them, I could feel the joy that comes from sacrifice stretch the lining of my little heart, making it grow just a little more. The thing is, I know that on my own, this isn’t possible. It is only through God’s power and example that I am able to sacrifice AND feel joy.
I love what Mother Teresa said about sacrifice, “A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, and must empty ourselves. Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in his love than in your weakness.” Amen, Mother Teresa! But be prepared for unexpected joy!
Today I listened to a friend give a talk about Jesus ~ our sacrificial lamb, the Alpha and Omega, beginning and the end, the Word, Emmanuel. Her talk rekindled in me an awe at the depths of God’s love for us, that yet while we were still sinners, still thinking jealous thoughts, still turning a cold shoulder to someone in need, still lashing out with unkind words ~ that even though we are so imperfect, never good enough to be with a perfect and Holy creator ~ even in the midst, He sacrificed Jesus out of love for us. And what God tells us about that is even more amazing (note, emphasis is mine)…
For the JOY set before him he (Jesus) endured the cross (sacrificed), scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him (Jesus) who endured such opposition from sinners (YOU AND ME!), so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Keep sacrificing!) Hebrews 12:2-3
Pain. “Okay, I am going to touch each tooth with a cotton swab that is very cold, I want you to tell me if you feel anything,” the endodontist said.
As he put a little pressure on the suspect tooth, I smugly shook my head. Nope! Didn’t feel a thing!
“Now,” he said, “I am going to take this tongue depressor and I want you to grind on it really hard on this tooth.”
I ground really hard.
“Really hard,” he encouraged. I complied. Nope! I didn’t feel anything. Not a twinge of pain.I knew it! I knew it was just a little infection! I won’t need a root canal, I didn’t feel any pain at all! I thought to myself.
“Well,” the endodontist said with a somber tone in his voice, “I have bad news. You are going to need a root canal.”
What? I was too stunned to say the words out loud. What was he talking about? Didn’t I say I didn’t feel any pain on that tooth?!
As though reading my mind, he said, “The fact that you don’t feel any pain on that tooth indicates that the nerve is dead. And…”
Wait, no way! There was more?
“I am concerned about the tooth next to it. You might need a root canal in that tooth as well.”
It was too much to process. Completely contradictory to anything I had expected. If there is a problem, shouldn’t I feel pain in the tooth? Sure, I had discomfort in my gums ~ I knew something was going on. But it was an irritant more than anything. I could overlook it, live with it. It wasn’t something so uncomfortable that it drove me to the endodontist. No, it was my dentist at a routine cleaning that told me I needed to go. Despite a lack of real pain, apparently I had an infection.
My incident with the endodontist got me thinking about pain, and life, and our spiritual journey. You have a lot of time to ponder when you are laying on a chair with your mouth wide open! I wondered ~ is seeking a pain-free, comfortable life always the best thing for us? Or is our pain-free, comfortable life masking an infected soul and spirit?
Sometimes I think the enemy of our soul wants to keep us in a comfortable and pain-free place. After all, without pain, what motivation is there to change, to move outside our comfort zone? Without pain, how will ever empathize with those who so desperately need the comfort we could supply? Without pain, when would we cry out to our Lord and Savior for rescue and redemption?
I know that in my own life I have experienced the most incredible spiritual growth during the most grueling seasons of emotional pain. Before, I didn’t know the depths of my infection. Sure, I had some moments of discomfort, minor irritations, but I could overlook them, handle them on my own. The pain wasn’t that bad but it masked a serious infection. Thankfully, God created pain. He created pain as a way of letting us know something is wrong. We need to make a change. We need help. And when it comes to the state of our souls, we need more than any doctor can provide or prescribe. We need a Savior.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Days. It’s that time of year. I reached the end of my calendar and it was time to get my new Zig Ziglar performance planner ready for the new year. I spent an hour writing the number of the day in the little boxes for the weekly and monthly views. I went through and marked out the major holidays. It felt weird to write in the year as “2013” and then I got to the end of the planner and found it included a thirteenth month to get you started on the next year ~ and so I wrote “2014”. 2014? I can barely grasp that 2012 is nothing more than a memory; it’s hard to imagine that one day I will be writing 2014 on checks ~ assuming we still use checks in 2014!
I love this time of year. I love thinking about a new year, a fresh start, new goals, revising my bucket list. There’s nothing like a fresh, clean calendar just waiting to be filled with things to do, goals, and plans. But as I pulled out my new calendar and numbered my days, I had a sobering thought. My days ARE numbered. There is no guarantee I will live to see the date so neatly written in the little box. Even as I reread the first paragraph of this post, I realize how presumptuous I am to say that one day I will be writing 2014 on checks; in fact, what I should have said was, one day I may do this or that. Recent events, both nationally and personally, have made this realization very clear to me. It’s a realization I hope I think about often in 2013, not to bring me down, but to remind me that every day is a gift and an opportunity.
God knows the number of my days here and I am very thankful I don’t. The Mayans sure didn’t. But I do know that my calendar does have an end date ~ every person born has an end date. In Southern California, where I live, there was a radio talk show host I used to listen to in the afternoons. When you listen to someone on the radio on a regular basis you begin to feel like you know them ~ you’re familiar with their quirky words, their laugh, their opinions. That’s how I felt about Frank Pastore. And then one day, a little over a month ago, I tuned in to hear an unfamiliar voice in Frank’s place. Frank had been in a serious motorcycle accident and lay in a coma in the hospital. I could hardly believe it. Sure, everyone who listened to Frank knew that he rode a motorcycle; but he was so vibrant, still so young, doing God’s work and influencing people in his world. How could this happen?
We prayed for him, my family and all his many listeners, family and friends. We prayed that God would heal him so that he could continue to be a part of our world and continue to spread the good news about God’s plan for His creation. But it wasn’t meant to be and December 17th was Frank’s last day here. God knew the exact number of Frank’s days.
Amazingly, Frank spoke of the dangers of riding his motorcycle on the air the very day he would suffer his deadly accident. You can read his testimony here and listen to his prophetic words here (scroll down to see the link). If you listen to this clip from his show, you will know that Frank’s concern wasn’t about his physical death, because he got it. He understood that his days here were numbered. And he didn’t seem at all concerned about spiritual death either, because he knew with all assurance that he was going to be with his Lord and Savior when his time here was done. His concern was for the souls of others, those who didn’t have a Savior to bridge the gap between an imperfect human being and a perfect, holy Creator.
Last time I checked, no one I know had an expiration date stamped on them. But don’t be mistaken, though we don’t know the time, we all have an end date. There’s a country song that says “I wish that you would live like you are dying…” Well, guess what? You are dying! I am dying! Will this realization cause you to live differently in 2013? Will it cause you to think about your priorities? And most importantly, will it give you reason to think about the relationship of your own soul with its Creator? I pray it does and, if you are interested, I would love to introduce you to my Savior. Frank knew Him. Zig Ziglar knew Him. In fact, you may have heard about Him ~ we celebrated His birthday on December 25th!
A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed. Job 14:4-6
“Show me, LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.” Psalm 39:3-5
Lineage. Family history is fascinating…sometimes inspiring, sometimes shocking and maybe even a little scary. I recently had the chance to look through a book that compiled a portion of my family history.
“Dad, did you see the part about the 1930 census? Did all of Grandpa’s family really live in that little house, plus a boarder, too?” My Dad confirmed what seemed incredulous to me – all those people had lived in that tiny two bedroom house with one bathroom in the basement; the house that I always knew as “Nana’s house”!
I tried to imagine my great-grandfather boarding a boat in Italy headed to a land he must have felt held tremendous opportunity. He must have felt a better life waited across that vast body of water; why else would an 18 year old young man leave behind his wife and two sons?
Family history is interesting and I realize that one of my relatives put a lot of time and effort to put together this book that gave me a glimpse into the people and circumstances that led me to be me. I think lots of people are curious about who belongs to them and where they came from. But is where I came from more important than where I am going? And is my lineage limited to the blood and DNA that has been passed down to me from my ancestors?
There is another family history book that is far more interesting than the one that includes some Italian names that are difficult to pronounce. This book is also filled with lineage, is very interesting, sometimes shocking, sometimes a little scary, and includes more than a few difficult names to pronounce!
It is a compilation of human history and it includes an invitation to all of us to belong to another family ~ the book is the Bible and the family is God’s. I love reading the Bible because God reveals to me how little has changed in the history of families. I don’t know about you, but there were and are a lot of broken people in my family chain, and when I am added to the chain, people will look back and see that there were some cracks in my link as well.
The Bible is filled with broken people, less than perfect families, who are in need of healing, just like us. But God doesn’t leave them, or us, in brokenness. He offers us healing by inviting us to be a part of His family through faith in Jesus. Now, when I think of my family, I also think of all my brothers and sisters who share my faith and are part of God’s family. It is a connection and bond that I have found surpasses ethnicity and culture and it gives me a glimpse into what I believe heaven will be like. And I think looking forward to heaven is far more interesting than looking back. One day, whether we like it or not, we are all going to embark on a new journey across a vast expanse. Have you thought about your journey and where you are going?
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Jesus
If you haven’t considered being a part of God’s family, I pray you will consider it today.
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” John 14
Mothers. One of my greatest blessings has been to be a mother. I wish I could say that I executed the role of motherhood perfectly. All the time. Without fail. No regrets. But if I said that, I have two beautiful children who would find time to leave me a comment or two to bring me back to reality. Reality is that I am an imperfect mother.
For example, it seemed our son had a bump or scrape on his head every day from age one to age two. It didn’t matter how closely I watched him, how near I kept him, or how much I padded the furniture, he just seemed to take one tumble after another that caused some kind of bump or abrasion on his poor little head. I was sure I was the worst mother in the world. But like most active little boys, he grew out of that stage intact only to enter another equally challenging phase.
My daughter was not as physically active as a youngster, but had her share of hurts just the same. Missing friends at birthday parties, not being able to try out for the cheerleading squad, broken hearts – it didn’t matter how closely I watched her, or how near I kept her, or how much I tried to protect her heart, there were hurts. At times I would have nightmares that one of my two children would end up on some talk show, speaking from the shadows with their voices altered by a modulator so that no one could identify them – all because of the mistakes I had made as a mother. Thankfully that didn’t happen. Scrapes healed, tender emotions passed and, to my knowledge, no one ended up on a talk show.
I love my children beyond measure, and yet my best efforts at being their mother have always fallen short of perfection. I am grateful that God does not measure my worth by my works – as a mother or in any other area of my life. He does not expect me to save myself by what I do or don’t do. What a wonderful gift is God’s grace that saves an imperfect mother like me!
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8
“Not a very good looking field,” my son said as we made our way over to the registration table. Even though I have been to more baseball fields than I can remember, I have never become an aficianado of field quality, so I try to make an intelligent observation by offering up something about the height of the grass and better to catch the ball than to let it get lost in that mess of green they call a field. I must have made some sense because my son chuckled and we continued on.
It is another leg on his baseball journey, another tryout, and I sit in the stands praying for God’s guidance in my son’s life. I watch as baseball players in all shapes and sizes, in all manner of baseball dress, start getting out their gear. As my son had pulled his worn bag out of the trunk I made the usual motherly query, “Don’t you have a bag that isn’t ripped?” But then I notice that his equipment is in varying states of condition from new bats to pants with worn out knees. As I watch the other players on the field I notice how the routine, the stretching, the equipment is all second nature to these young men. Years of being part of a baseball community, years of throwing a little white ball around a field, years of opening and closing a bag full of useful equipment culminate in days like today.
It made me wonder ~ was I ever part of a community where I had gear and special equipment? It occurred to me that at one time I had. I had a diaper bag. And it was filled with the typical Mom equipment: snacks, baby wipes, diapers, pacifiers, a change of clothes. When my posse, my team, got together, we all pulled our worn out bags from our rides and opened them with the same familiarity as a baseball player.
But that was years ago ~ what equipment bag do I have today? Someone from my past recently reconnected with me. Their childhood was a collection of hurts that resulted in some bad choices as an adult. They shared how these bad choices had hurt themselves and others. I thought about my pastor who has said many times ~ hurt people, hurt people. Contrary to what I thought was possible, this person made their way to church and is getting to know Jesus.
“I heard the pastor say that Jesus can forgive my sins, but I have done some pretty bad stuff. I’m not sure I believe He could really do that. I’m not sure I can forgive myself.” I could hear the confusion in their voice.
I am not a pastor, not a Bible scholar, not a counselor. Am I really prepared to be there for this person in a meaningful way? Yes, I am. I do have equipment. I do have a community. I pull out my worn Bible from my equipment bag.
“Oh, but God can forgive you and He will help you to forgive yourself. Do you have a Bible? You might want to start with the gospel of John.”
The road ahead will be challenging for my friend as they take baby steps with their faith. I am sure I will be pulling out some timely verses from God’s love letter to us to encourage them on the path. I have already reached out to my community and asked them to pull out their equipment bags to lift up this struggling new believer in prayer.
The sun eventually burned off the marine layer and now warms the baseball players who are strewn around the field with their gear: their bats and gloves, hats and bags. The day is winding down and soon the equipment will be put away. It’s useful gear, but not all the time. It serves its purpose and then gets put away till the next practice, game or tryout. But my spiritual bag never gets put away. It is useful in every situation. I don’t just use it, it equips me. It doesn’t just serve a temporary purpose here, it serves an eternal purpose. I am so grateful to God for my equipment bag, my gear and for allowing me to be a part of His community. The best part is, you don’t need to try out to get your own equipment or be on the team ~ you just need to ask Him to join. Do you want to be part of the team? Click here to learn how!
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:14-17