Time Is…

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“Time is Fleeting.”

“Time is Infinite.”

“Time is of the Essence.”

“Time is Money.”

 Our understanding of time colors our perception of the world around us. There are essentially two modes of time: kronos and kairos. Kronos is chronological time. It involves punching a clock, scheduling, and prioritizing. Efficiency and productivity are its goals. Kairos is more elastic. It measures time in terms of relationships and events. Let me give you an example…If I asked you what you were doing at precisely 3:17pm on May 14th, 2014, you probably would have a difficult time recalling, and even if you could remember, the answer provided would be clinical, like reading it out of an appointment book. However, if I ask you to think back to your last birthday or the last time you went to your favorite restaurant with that special someone…Now the memories and related emotional responses begin to surface and flow. You can smell the food, remember the ambiance and tone of the lighting and perhaps hear background voices, even recalling whole conversations from that event – a look, a touch of the hand – it all becomes almost tangible again…

Our memory resides in kairos time, though western society functions in kronos. Most of the world still functions entirely in kairos time – punctuality is not as highly prized, getting straight to the point is considered rude and breeds distrust, and face-to-face communication is highly valued. Western-style-kronos-club members are convenience-driven. If a phone call or a text will suffice, business is done. Emails and conference calls may well close the deal – but keep them brief and succinct so the audience doesn’t fall asleep or tune you out.

When and why did we change? The key point in history came with the Industrial Revolution. Productivity became more important, with everything now being tied to earning potential. Money becomes king. As a follower of Jesus Christ, how do I reconcile that? Hmmm…

We have the concept of “free time,” meaning time not previously committed to some other endeavor, namely one that generate income. Perpetually busy, we fantasize about what we might do with our “free time.” How much money can we throw at it? And then, returning to work, the cycle begins again…

Our time, all of it, is actually free. It is a gift that God freely gives us because He is exceedingly patient…and yet it was not without a magnificent cost…

Every year, Americans celebrate Independence Day where we enjoy the freedom to participate in parades and fireworks shows, to grill hamburgers and hotdogs, go swimming or take in a baseball game – but the freedom we prize so highly came, and continues to come, at an incredible cost. Our military budget dwarfs all other nations, though we can’t seem to budget to care for our veterans when they return home – if they return. The lives lost or crippled may be quantifiable, but their value is incalculable…This is why we say that “Freedom isn’t free.” Likewise, True Freedom, that which no government or earthly authority can dictate or take away, was bought with the blood of one perfect individual – fully God and fully man – and we did nothing, nor can we accomplish anything to deserve His sacrifice. So…if Jesus bought our eternal freedom with His own blood and our time is a measure of His grace and mercy, then how should we use that gift to say, “thank you?” We are not merely stewards of the money, resources, and relationships entrusted to us, but also of the time we’ve been afforded – in whatever amount that is. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20a reads, in part, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” Luke 16:10-13 says, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you’ve not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?…No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

When Jesus said, “Come follow me…” to Andrew and Simon Peter, they walked away from their money-making livelihood and obeyed…imagine if they’d said “What about my job?” or “Can I pencil you in tomorrow?” But they knew the value of the One who called them. He may not be calling you to walk away from your job – Simon and Andrew were fishers, therefore Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men.” If you are not a fisherman, then this is not likely what God has in store for you…Are you an architect? It may be more likely that He is grooming you to build others up. Are you a teacher? Oh, wow, does He have a tall order for you! Are you an accountant, or a bus driver, or a journalist…Jesus didn’t call all of His disciples to be “fishers of men.” He called them as He had already equipped them.

If “time is fleeting,” then we shouldn’t let it go to waste. If “time is infinite,” then we should approach everything with an eternal perspective. If “time is of the essence,” then we should walk with His Spirit, seeking His wisdom and guidance, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on you own understanding. Acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own estimation; fear the Lord and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3:5-7). If “time is money,” perhaps we would be better served by serving God with our time, talents, finances, prayers and relationships, and let Him handle the rest.

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Resurrection Day

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We’ve had a few brilliant moments of clarity this month as we’ve traversed through the seven year old being sick, and then myself, car problems, and extended family health issues. One of those perfect windows where everything seemed right with the world was Easter weekend. This year as my older boys ran around hiding sugar-filled eggs for my younger girls to find, and the picture-perfect weather between storms was calming my sinuses, my thoughts wandered back to the Old Testament Book of Nehemiah. It may sound like an odd connection, but bear with me as I chase this bunny rabbit. Nehemiah traveled 1,000 miles with permission and protection from the king of Babylon to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. These walls had been rubble for generations at that point. The people were seemingly lost in despair. Before something beautiful could be constructed, Nehemiah had to take a long, hard, honest look at the damage, and then set out to clear away the debris. So often I’ve thought about something that I’d like to accomplish, but there is too much rubble in the way – too many hurdles – too many inconveniences – and somehow I convince myself that must mean it’s not God’s will for me to complete that particular project. This is exactly what kept Jerusalem wallowing in shame and destruction for so long – it seemed too great a task and they were discouraged, brokenhearted, and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the damage. Our metaphorical damaged walls and lost-ness can have the same debilitating effect – leaving us feeling powerless and ineffective. The answer is not to wait until God sends a Nehemiah, but to follow Nehemiah’s example. He prayed for four months for the city, and then God prompted the king to ask Nehemiah what was on his mind, opening up the conversation and the possibility of healing. Which brings me to the second point: Nehemiah didn’t do it alone. He had others come along side him. God used the king to provide the resources and provisions. Nehemiah’s distant relatives, most of which he’d probably never met, all pitched in and had their section of the wall they were responsible to build and defend. Just fifty-two days later the walls were built – project complete? Not hardly. The clearing of the debris was necessary to build the wall. The building of the wall was necessary for the next step, getting the heart of the city right with God, and people right with each other. There are stages to healing. Where is the debris so thick in your life that you’ve determined to just ignore it? Are you trying to do it alone? The reason that people are supposed to be in a church community is not because it’s the right club to belong to, but because we need to be there for one another, loving each other and helping each other to clear away our rubble and rebuild. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV).

Sin is simply anything that separates us from God – it is us deciding what is right and good instead of leaning on His perfect design and plan. If a builder decides to go solo on a whim and deviate from the architects plan, it could create a big ‘ol mess or at the least distrust between team members who thought they were all on the same team with the same goals and methods in mind. When parents aren’t on the same page regarding the training of a child, distrust and brokenness can result and a rift develops in the heart of the child, which continues to impact other areas of their life and relationships. Destruction begets more destruction. We all have some level of brokenness that we have to own up to. Looking in another direction will not make it go away. Ignoring it won’t make it better. Hiding it will only cause it to fester and rot. How do we begin to clear it away? Where do we start? Start with the one who understands every inch of our lives. He was the architect who fashioned an amazing floor plan for each of us, and it was all-good until we decided to confiscate the tools and change up the design. He is perfect, loving, forgiving, and He can make all things new. In the Russian language, the word for Sunday is pronounced Vos-kre-sen-ye. It literally means “Resurrection Day.” But before Christ could be resurrected, He had to die to clean up our mess. It is too big for one person, but not for God. He is the King who provides us protection in the midst of disaster, and whose limitless resources are available to us through Jesus. “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14 NIV). The light of Christ will expose all of the ugliness that we face, but it will allow us to see our way through it – one stone, one hurt, one apology at a time. No person, no Christian, no church is perfect. When Jesus was asked why He was hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes, He responded, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matthew 9:12; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:31 NIV). Our souls can be healed – even though we were dead in sin, separated from God, sick, and alienated from the church because of imperfect people that treated us poorly. God has a lot of patience and a lot of patients. While this life will never be perfect, He can take all your imperfect parts and employ others to help you rebuild the walls of a structure that will shelter others during their storms. You may be the answer to a prayer just 52 days from now that someone else is seeking. Shine a light on it. Find others who are following the Architect to help you resurrect this life, and rise each day in the knowledge that He loves you. He invested His whole self in you. You were an investment worth dying for, and you too can be resurrected with Him.

Born to Do This!

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When I was starting out in college (the first time around) I came across a letter-sized black poster with a white swoosh symbol on it. Being familiar with the commercials for Nike and the tag line, “Just Do It,” I put it on the wall in my dorm room as a reminder that no matter how tired I was, or how directionless I felt, I could not give up. The problem I had was never a lack of determination, but a longing to understand my purpose. Why did God choose to place me in the time period that He did, with the family and in the birth-order that He did, and what in the world was I supposed to do with any of the talents and resources that He’d handed me? I’d heard people with regard to this or that say to me, “You were born to do this!” But was I? Just whose voice was speaking on behalf of God? Who should I listen to?

Our oldest child wasn’t much for listening through his teenage years, but after becoming a father at age twenty on Christmas Eve 2014, he’s started asking a lot more questions, and really taking to heart the answers given. Our second oldest is getting ready to go off to college and is struggling with which university to pick. When I was where they are now, though I believed fully in Jesus Christ, I didn’t truly understand what it meant for Him to take the lead, or for me to follow. I still attempted to do things in my own strength – to do what seemed rational, logical, or responsible rather than asking the Lord AND WAITING for Him to answer. He knew I would do that, and He graciously carried me through a host of poor decisions anyway.

So I’ve walked quite a bit farther since then, but focused on keeping more in step with Jesus and His Word, and I’ve learned a lot. One of the many things He’s taught me is that (See Exodus) the enemy is always in hot pursuit. If I am listening to anything other than His Words or following any other path than the one He’s carved out for me, I will get distracted and overtaken. The enemy will pick me off and consume me. If I will wait, listen, trust Him, and follow, He will make straight my path. That path may not lead to immediate prosperity – I may wander in a desert for 40+ years – but in the midst of that, He still provides (quail, manna, water). The banquet is yet to come.

So what am I born to do? I am a missionary. It is my life’s mission to be actively involved in an intimate relationship with Jesus and to introduce others to Him. How? Find where you are motivated – What stirs you up, brings you tears of joy or frustrates you the most? As an example, when I was seven years old, the Reflections art contest theme was “I Have a Dream…” patterned after MLK Jr’s famous speech. My dream was for every child who was too poor to have a birthday party to come together and a celebration would be provided for them. When I received an allowance at age thirteen, the first thing I wanted to do was sponsor a child, which I began doing through World Vision. Imagine my tears of joy when, years later, World Vision added birthday celebrations once a year in every village and I get to be a part of it! The point is not to pat myself on the back, but to point out where my obvious motivation always was (never discount the passions of a child – there’s always an underlying theme). Take that motivating factor and mix it with the talents, abilities, and interests that God gave you & presto! You’ve got a good idea of how He wants to shape and mold you – you’ve got your starting point. You still need the light of truth that only He can provide to guide you step-by-step. My starting point is a compassion for others that leads me to combat injustice through service. The gift He’s provided that I’ve used most prolifically throughout my life is my voice. Most people thought that meant I had to perform on a stage and live in a tour bus, but God had other plans. I am a voice-over actor. I am a teacher to my children and of preschool music in my church. I am an encourager and editor to my husband (who’s soon to be a professor/preacher). I am learning to translate into other languages. I still sing – but now for an audience of One.  I am a writer, passionate about research and sharing God’s Word. And I will not give up, shut up, sit down or stop moving forward as directed by His Word until the day He calls me home. What are you born to do?

Pigeonholed

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Pigeonholed

A few reasonable definitions might be “to assign to a particular category or class, especially in a manner that is too rigid or exclusive,” or “an oversimplification of a group or individual that paints an inaccurate portrait of reality as it applies to that group or person.”

People who are pigeon-holed are classified consciously or unconsciously by another or group of others in an attempt to compartmentalize or understand something that is perhaps beyond their level of interest or comprehension. This allows them to put the matter aside and ignore it.

These neat little mental boxes effectively create barriers between the two parties and can cause open communication to disintegrate.

I find it to be particularly painful when the misperceptions, or lackadaisical approach to relationship building is perpetrated by those who should know better, those who claim to have a relationship with you, but clearly hale from a different planet.

Certainly, I’m venting a bit of personal frustration, but I’m truly writing in order that I might share what helps me to bear up under some fairly heavy annoyances:

1) I don’t have to bear them alone. I have a Savior who understands me for better and worse. He has said, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you” (Hebrews 13:5).

2) He understands my frustration because He has felt it in far greater measure than I have. Those who should know Him the best often try to put Him in a neat little box and they miss the bigger, truer, more beautiful picture.

“The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God” (Psalm 14:2).

“…Those responsible for teaching my law did not really know me…(Jeremiah 2:8).

“…my people are foolish. They do not know me…They have no understanding…” (Jeremiah 4:22).

In John 7:27, Jesus is speaking in the temple and some want to believe, but they dismiss His teaching because of an inaccurate perception, “But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.”

The people had their own version of what the Messiah would be like — a mighty warrior-king after the more masculine fashion of David, a lion from a far-off place. But they forgot Isaiah 40:10-11, “See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power… He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” King David was first a shepherd, before claiming the throne as king. The Lord Jesus also is our Shepherd and is exceedingly patient with us (2 Peter 3:9). One day He will return as our conquering King, but in the meantime, He endures the mislabeling, misunderstanding, and mistreatment of His name.  One day all will see clearly.

3) There is a teachable element in all circumstances. Sin and fear blind us to the truth around us and within ourselves. I have to ask myself, “How often have I been guilty of trying to pigeon-hole or ignore God?” I can then ask His forgiveness and learn how to grow closer to Him. You can’t change others perceptions necessarily, but you can learn from the situation and alter the way that you approach The King. When you truly love someone, it pains you to have hurt or neglected them in some way, and by realizing the distance you’ve created, you’ll naturally wish to move closer to them in proximity and intimacy in order to repair the breach, thereby growing positively in your relationship.

If you don’t know Him yet, introduce yourself. If it’s been a while since you put Him on a shelf, revisit the box, and you’ll find that you never really had Him contained anyway.

What’s in a Name?

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What’s in a name? To many a name is merely a way to identify oneself or close family relations, to others it is a genealogical hobby, while others recognize a greater significance owing to a family inheritance or position of responsibility. Luke chapter 15 describes the story of the lost son, a.k.a. “The Prodigal Son.” His father had land, servants, more than enough provision for all, but this son wanted something different. He asks for his inheritance long before his father’s passing, travels far away and squanders his money on things with no lasting value. Finally realizing that he was in need, he sells himself into slavery and is made to tend pigs – which were detestable to the Hebrews. He hits rock bottom as his hunger has caused him to envy the pigs food, and he was deprived of even that. Deciding to swallow his pride instead, he rehearses the apology he must say to his father and hopes that he may be accepted back as an unworthy (but better fed) servant.

There is no telling how long this son was gone, but his father was waiting and watching for him to come home. In that culture and time, the offender would typically approach and grovel at the feet of the offended one and beg forgiveness. Instead of standing upon ceremony, the father runs…Overwhelmed that his son has returned, he shows no pride, arrogance, no hint of “I told you so.” He runs. He embraces his son and does not even allow the apology to be spoken, but puts a robe and ring on the young man instead. That ring would bear the family crest or seal. That ring gave the son power of attorney to enter into business or trade agreements with other farmers or landowners bearing the full weight of the family name!

There is a heavenly inheritance we have and a Father who is waiting for us to come home. Knowing all of our most positive attributes and our most atrocious faults, he waits…and when you come over that hill…when you realize your need that only He can fill…He will come running.

I know of too many people, whether from a “broken” or “functional” home, that don’t know what it is like to have a father who takes a genuine interest in them. Too many grown children still trying to come to terms with living up to their father’s expectations, or allowing their lives to be ruled by a fear of disappointing him. This is not fodder for rebellion, but an opportunity to begin to understand our own hurts. When you feel misunderstood, unappreciated, distant, your spouse or girl/boyfriend does something that seems beyond frustrating and you don’t completely comprehend why it irritates you so – you could always blame it on PMS or stress, but perhaps you need to come to terms with a hurt that a well-intentioned but imperfect human father has left you battling. To those of you who’s father’s have abandoned you – I will tell you what I had to tell two of my children: “It is not your fault. Being a daddy is a big responsibility, and not everyone can handle that.” I was fortunate that God brought a man into my life, and together we’ve worked to raise our blended family. We discovered a whole new understanding of what adoption means when my children decided take his name! Whether it happens on this side of heaven or not, there is a good, kind, gracious, loving father who knows everything about you and he is longing to have a close relationship with you. He’ll never force it. If you want your full inheritance now – he’ll give you exactly what you asked for – but it won’t come with a robe, a ring, or the family name. The family of God comes with a name that will transform everything you thought was important. It will ask the world of you, and give you heaven in return.

Broken

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To be broken refers to being separated into parts or pieces, altered, fractured, or damaged in some way. It indicates that an obstacle to unity has been introduced which requires assistance in order to be repaired. Often, the break is physically, emotionally, or financially painful to endure. When a bone is broken, a doctor has to follow certain steps in order to assist with healing. Treatment may begin with an x-ray of the area in question. This allows all parties to see the nature and extent of the damage. Readjustments would be required to reset the bone, and a cast to hold it in place. Regardless of the speed of healing, the area will be vulnerable and sore for a time. When the bone has healed, there is usually an additional layer of tissue that has developed to guard against the separation reoccurring in the same area. The body is designed to be self-healing, so with all obstacles removed, physical reconciliation may be achieved so that you are even stronger than before.

Emotional separation does not always heal so easily, and often there are real or imagined obstacles that cannot be tangibly x-rayed, reset, and cast. Can we guard against dealing with personal brokenness? To some extent, yes. Romans 16:17-18 reads, “Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned. Avoid them! For these are the kind who do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By their smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of the naive.” Avoidance is possible when the obstacle is known. The key to being able to achieve this is knowing the obstacle. Many of us spend incalculable hours trying to discern ourselves, our motives, and appropriate responses to life events. The self-help industry is a multi-billion dollar a year business where we go to search out ways to improve, overcome fear, or inspiration for achieving that next level of success. Each of these things being identified and accomplished, we assume, will bring us closer to happiness. So, let’s see…

To overcome…To those in the middle of a specific battle, Jeremiah 1:19 relays a promise, “’They will attack you but they will not be able to overcome you, for I will be with you to rescue you,’ says the Lord.” Romans12:21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Two tips – good rules and God rescues.

To achieve…1 Samuel 18:14 “Now David achieved success in all he did, for the Lord was with him.” In Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 we see personal reflection regarding achievements, “I did not restrain myself from getting whatever I wanted; I did not deny myself anything that would bring me pleasure. So all my accomplishments gave me joy; this was my reward for all my effort. Yet when I reflected on everything I had accomplished and on all the effort that I had expended to accomplish it, I concluded: ‘All these achievements and possessions are ultimately profitless—like chasing the wind! There is nothing gained from them on earth.’” In fact, read all of chapter 2. It’s a great philosophical mind-tangent trying to understand feelings of utility and what ultimately can bring about experiencing joy!

If success is measured by something being achieved or gained, then you find that in Proverbs 16:20, “The one who deals wisely in a matter will find success, and blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.” I’m seeing a pattern here. Success, joy, unity, and happiness can be found by trusting in the Lord! Simple, right? There is nothing that we can impress Him with. He only wants a love relationship based on trust. Unfortunately, when trust is the very thing that has been broken in some way by someone who is a father or father-figure, a mother, a best friend, another person professing to be a Christian… It’s much easier for many to cry “malpractice” rather than to look to God as the Doctor who can heal all wounds. Too often, a trust has been violated and those who claim to follow Jesus Christ are more interested in diagnosing the sin and then categorizing and discussing it in committee while the patient lies there in pain. The name of God is cursed among those who don’t believe in Him because of many who call themselves by His name, have wounded others in His name, and/or have elevated themselves above others using His name as their slogan! Jesus says, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a huge millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the open sea.” Romans 14 says we should not “do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” We are ambassadors for God on Earth. Ambassadors come bearing His message of love and forgiveness, not wearing a powdered wig and holding a gavel. But I digress…

Brokenness will not heal overnight. Don’t expect it to. Brokenness may mean some pieces get lost along the way. Brokenness may cause us to put up artificial emotional and mental barriers or walls in order to cope. This is not the type of cast Doctor God would necessarily use. It is exactly now, at our most vulnerable, that Jesus speaks. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28. Imagine for a minute someone who’s never stepped foot in a gym, but has prayed for strength. Will He give you superhuman strength just by your walking in the front door, or after the first workout, or will He give you opportunities and the time necessary to become stronger? If you are jobless or underemployed and seeking a way to provide for your family, will God hand you a lump sum of cash, or will He condition you to serve in some manner that is productive for others? Learn to be daily dependent on Him. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away trying to make your own decisions. He is a kind and gentle father, employer, provider, brother, friend who is patient with you and understands your needs. I know I would not be where I am today without Him. Without Him, I searched for acceptance in one broken relationship after another. Without Him, I made poor and self-centered financial decisions. Without Him, my gifts and talents were misused and had no direction. Without Him, I was exhausted…In Him, I found rest. In Him, I found comfort. In Him, I learned that I am loved just for being who He created me to be and that I didn’t have to feel like a performing monkey, get the highest grades, earn the biggest paycheck, or fit in with any particular group of people. He put the pieces back together when I didn’t have the strength, and He replaced those that were damaged beyond repair. In Him, I found something better. In Him, I am free.

Easter Isn’t Over Yet…

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This Easter I wanted to help my girls to understand that the holiday is more than just baby chicks, bunnies, and chocolate eggs. As I went looking for the items, the Scriptural significance of each one came to me. I gave each of my daughters a basket along with this note:

Your Easter Basket

 A princess to remind you that you are daughter of the King.

Romans 8:15-17

  A mirror to remind you who He created you to be.

Ephesians 2:10

 Bath soap to remind you what truly washes your sins away and makes you clean.

Hebrews 1:3

  Nail polish to remind you of the beautiful hands and feet that were pierced for you, And that now you represent His hands and feet too.

Romans 10:15

 Cleaning wipes to remind you to serve others just as Jesus did by washing the feet of His disciples.

John 13:12-17

 Lip gloss to remind you that every word out of your mouth should be sweetened with the Fruits of the Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-23

  A little lamb so that you remember to stay close to the Good Shepherd, Always.

John 10:11

 They held each item, read the corresponding note and looked up the reference together. I must say, this little exercise will help me to think about things differently when I’m doing simple tasks like putting on nail polish or lip gloss, or even looking in the mirror and remembering that I am valued by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords so much that He would hang beaten and exhausted on a cross for me. I can see Him looking down at me and uttering the words, “Father, forgive her. She doesn’t know what she’s doing.” And then to include me in the power of His resurrection anyway, and given a seat at the great banquet table?! Choco-egg-birthing-bunnies have got nothing on my Risen Jesus!  Resurrection Sunday is just the beginning…Easter isn’t over yet.

Security vs. Significance

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Significance is a noun indicating, “the quality of being important…having notable worth or influence.”  Each human being is important, so says John 3:16, and whether they realize their worth or feel influential or not, each life impacts everything in its environment.  I have often underestimated the significance of my own existence, preferring to remain comfortable in the shadow of my wonderful husband’s contagiously animated and outgoing nature.  When given the option, I have settled for security more often than not.  Security may be defined as, “the state of being protected or safe from harm.”  Safety may be thought of in physical terms, but I would submit that it is more often related to emotional comfort that is coveted, whether that is borne from fear of being alienated, different, or simply being uncertain which direction is best.  How many of us have determined at some point of decision, not to make a decision at all, simply because you know and understand where you are, and may be too afraid to take the “wrong” next step?  So foolish are we who act as though our security can ever be found in the shadows, in keeping quiet, or in hiding behind excuses or other human beings!  The Psalms are full of praises to God for His protection.  Psalm 32:7, “You are my hiding place; you protect me from distress. You surround me with shouts of joy from those celebrating deliverance.” Psalm 73:28 says, “But as for me, God’s presence is all I need. I have made the sovereign Lord my shelter…” Psalm 119:57 tells us, “The Lord is my source of security…” I cannot hide from the world and be an effective, significant support to the Church.

Significant is an adjective, defined by Merriam-Webster as, “large enough to be noticed or have an effect.” When I look back at “significant” events in my own life, I think about the “light bulb” moments – times when a new truth became clear – times when overwhelming darkness gave way to peace – times when someone dared to risk their own emotional or physical security to reach out to me. “Large enough” doesn’t have to be huge. It could be that a simple note of encouragement, a hug, or time spent praying on behalf of another that makes all the difference in the world. No one lives in complete isolation, and attempting to isolate yourself isn’t “safe” – it’s lazy (speaking from experience). Baby steps are a fantastic start – but start you must if you ever wish to finish the race that God has uniquely marked out for you. Trust that His plan is not only the most significant of your life, but the only one that will also provide all the security you’ll ever need. It’s time to step out of the shadows and engage…

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Defining Treasure

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As St. Patrick’s Day approached, I began pondering the concept of treasure.  That, and the question:  How in the world do tiny people called leprechauns fit into the picture of a holiday proclaimed as a result of Christianity being brought to Ireland by a Roman Catholic former slave?  So I started digging.

The Irish concept of a leprechaun began with an ancient people called the Tuatha De Danann.  This group worshiped various gods or spirits, most of whom were related to elements of nature.  The Tuatha De Danann were, themselves, worshiped by some as gods. There were said to be four things the Tuatha De Danann actually treasured:

1) The Stone of Fal, which would cry out under the king who took sovereignty of Ireland

2) The Spear of Lug, which provides victory in battle

3) The Sword, which none could escape, and

4) the Cauldron of Dagda, which left none unsatisfied.

 The father of this ancient Irish tribe was called Nemed, who traced his lineage from Scythia and Noah’s son Japheth’s line of descendents (via Magog).  This people group was driven underground, though not exterminated, by the Milseans (also from Scythia via the Iberian peninsula).  Over time, and as Christianity eventually gained a foothold, the importance of the Tuatha De Danann diminished, along with their figurative stature.  They seem to have leveled out at approximately 3 feet in height according to legend.  The myths surrounding their magical qualities endured and these shoe cobblers, known for stashing their gold coins at the rainbow’s end, were also said to be capable of granting three wishes to anyone capable of capturing one.  For a great tribute to the ancient legend, look into the Disney movie and Sean Connery’s second performance in a film, “Darby O’Gill and the Little People.”

 The notion of “luck” associated with the early Irish peoples was borrowed from the Latin Fortuna, the goddess of luck or chance.  Luck may be defined as, “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.”  Chance is, “a force that causes good or bad things to happen.”

 Fast forward to the 5th century AD.  A teenager named Maewyn Succat was taken from his home in England to become a slave tending sheep in Ireland.  After six years he escapes and, through a series of misadventures, finds himself learning about monasticism in France.  He feels convicted that he must return to his previous captors in Ireland and share the good news of Jesus Christ with them.  The Roman Catholic Church warned him against serving there, as previous missions were unsuccessful and the Irish were thought to be unreachable, savage, and violent.  Maewyn Succat is determined, and upon becoming a priest, adopts the name Patrick (Patricus), which means “father-figure.”  He already knows the language and customs of the Irish people, and their traditional worship of nature and spirits.  He employs these ideas that they already understand, such as with placing a high value on the shamrock, to communicate the more complicated Christian concept of the Trinity or triune, but singular God (three heart-shaped leaves, but one flower with one stem).

 Patrick met them where they were, loved them regardless of his own negative past personal experiences during slavery, and is reputed to have performed signs and wonders so that the Tuatha De Danann, the Picts, the Gaels, and the Celts might come to know that the Lord God is sovereign and good.  Patrick died on March 17, 432 AD leaving over 300 churches and more than 100,000 followers of Jesus on the Emerald Isle.

 Like the early Irish, we are still in need of guidance and direction in order to understand what treasure really is and where it can be found.  Our treasure is not in pots of gold at the end of some rainbow.  It is not found in earthly utensils of war.  Our Stone of Fal is the Solid Rock that we stand on, the only stable foundation that is a relationship with the One true God.  Our Sword that none can escape is the Truth that Jesus is the way to abundant spiritual life, and that no one can come to the Father except through Jesus (John 14:6).  Our Spear of Lug, our victory in battle is knowing that Jesus has already won!  He made the ultimate sacrifice for us so that sin would not eternally keep us separated from our Creator! Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks some of this water will be thirsty again.  But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).  This is our true Cauldron of Dagda that leaves none unsatisfied.  He is what nourishes us and will never leave us wanting!  He is our treasure!

 The Bible has more than a few other things to say regarding how we should perceive earthly treasures:

 Colossians 2:3 refers to the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

 “Your riches have rotted and your clothing has become moth-eaten.  Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you.  It will consume your flesh like fire.  It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure!”  James 5:2-3

 “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.  But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

Matthew 25 explains that the way we treat others is a reflection of the love relationship that we have with God, that will naturally overflow into serving and helping others, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me” (Matthew 25:35-40, New English Translation).

 What do you value? Who do you value?

 A few other interesting tidbits about the modern history of St. Patrick’s Day:

 1) Light blue was worn on armbands and collars by members of the Irish Citizen Army in honor of St. Patrick until the Irish Rebellion of 1798, when green became more common.  This was the same group which prompted the 1916 Easter Uprising against British rule.

 2) The 1st St. Patrick’s Day Parade was held in the United States (1792 in New York City).  By 1848, nearly 3 million people would line the streets to watch 150,000 participants march in the 5-hour procession.

3) Ireland has only been officially celebrating St. Patrick’s Day beginning in 1903 when the Irish politician, James O’Mara introduced a bill at Westminster to formalize it as a holiday.

4) Being a heavily Catholic country, Ireland’s bars and pubs were legally closed on St. Patrick’s Day, and no alcohol was to be sold or consumed (as the holiday always falls during Lent) until the law was repealed in 1961.

5) Dublin’s first celebration was not until 1931, and Belfast would not celebrate the Irish festival until 1998 because of Protestant hostility toward Irish symbols (seeing them as associated with Catholicism or British rule, depending on who you ask).  The present-day ceremonies are championed by the only flag that all parties can agree on and are proud to wave: The flag of the Shamrock.

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Sovereign

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          The Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines sovereign as “one possessing or held to possess supreme political power…one that exercises supreme authority within a limited sphere…an acknowledged leader.”  It is a noun, a person, place or thing that is tangible and able to be located.  A dominant component of this word is the word reign.  Also a noun, it refers to a period of time during which a sovereign is in charge of something such as a group, organization, or country…”resembling that of a monarch.”  The word supreme is an adjective describing the sovereign as being “highest in rank or authority…degree or quality.”

             I can’t express in words how many times I have been comforted by simply repeating the thought silently, or even audibly, “God is sovereign.  God is sovereign.  God is sovereign.”  I cannot see all of the twists and turns that lay ahead.  I cannot fully understand things like illness, suffering, stress, and certainly not the delicate intricacies of the cosmos that the Lord God holds together.  I can, however, know with full confidence that He sees everything and has a perfect design for it all.  Suffering is not a commentary on God’s approval or disapproval, but is a direct result of sin.  Sin is simply anything that separates us from God.  When a body is separated from nourishment, it will inevitably begin to decay.  Humans have willfully separated themselves from God, and there is only one way back to a relationship with Him.  There is only one medicine that has an eternal significance, and it is free!  Jesus, sinless and perfect, sovereign for all time and beyond, paid the debt for my sins that I could never afford.  He then reappeared in the flesh after three days to prove once and for all that there is not only life after death, but that He is sovereign even over death!  There is nothing that this world could throw my way that will alter the magnitude of His power, and if I’m on His team, then why should I ever fear or worry over anything?  Even in times of distress, He reminds us, “Be strong and courageous!  Do not fear or tremble before them, for the Lord your God is the one who is going with you.  He will not fail you or abandon you! (Deuteronomy 31:6 NET).

             Many will acknowledge His reign and even His rank, but will balk at describing Him as sovereign.  Why?  Because to describe Him as sovereign indicates that we are not trying to edit Him to fit our desires, but instead editing our lives to fit His plan.  The more surrendered I am to His sovereignty, the more fulfilled, hopeful and at peace I am – regardless of the size of the storm, because I am a servant of the One who controls the rain.  Will you surrender to Him?