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Thanksgiving Day Seventeen 2015

When I was studying at the University of Tulsa, I took an elective course in Semantics.  It was known to be an easy ‘A’, but BORING.  While fellow students openly snoozed around me, I plopped myself in the front row, soaking up the history of the meaning of words, how meaning changes so that some meanings become archaic.  I began to understand why Latin was a dead language, word meanings never change, and English was a living language, adding new words and changing word meanings.  Once a nerd, always a nerd.

I am also a RADICAL in the manner of Billy Graham, who once in the 1950’s had a choir at one of his rallies in the South that was decidedly mixed races.  Concerned citizens counseled Dr. Graham that to not continue with the plan.  One even told him ‘he would set Christianity back a hundred years.’  To which, Dr. Graham replied, ‘that would be a shame.  I intended to set it back 2000 years.’

This morning this scripture,

“Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe.

The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.

My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

I and the Father are one.”
‭‭John‬ ‭10:25-30‬ ‭NIV‬‬,

was in my devotion from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young.

The word that popped into my head to describe Jesus was ‘Radical‘.  Not a popular description in today’s world, but I couldn’t shake it.

Jesus was speaking to religious leaders, who were appalled by his inflammatory statements, his challenges of the status quo, by the way he talked to them.  Frankly, the charge that they were not his sheep probably thrilled them since everyone knew how stupid sheep are unlike goats who are clever little fellows, independent rascals.  I am really editorializing here.

Anyway I did what I often do which was to follow the etymology of the word from the root, which by the way is what the latin word meant.

“Late 14c., in a medieval philosophical sense, from Late Latin radicalis “of or having roots,” from Latin radix (genitive radicis) “root” (see radish ). Meaning “going to the origin, essential” is from 1650s. Radical sign in mathematics is from 1680s”

As an aside, interesting to me, but undoubtedly not a lot of folks, one antonym for radical is superficial.

Jesus challenged the deviations and misinterpretations prevalent in religious practices of the Jewish leaders, with its ceremony, exclusiveness, and legalism.  Not what God had intended.  While the years of captivity in Babylon and then under the Persians had wiped out every trace of polytheism establishing the Jews as absolutely monotheistic,  the human response was to slam the doors to foreign influence and rigidly enforce the LAW.  To deviate or allow for flexibility might bring again the wrath of God.  These were not leaders who could allow a teacher (rabbi) from a decidedly mixed region to heal on the Sabbath or equate himself with God.

The sheep might follow and be led off a cliff, but the old goats, who enforced Jewish Law without any mercy on their fellow Jews, would not.  And yet later and even today many of the old goats both Jews and Gentiles have been transformed into yielding sheep.

Good to know, Even Sheep have bad hair days.
Good to know, Even Sheep have bad hair days.

I am a radical sheep following with my eyes wide open, my ears alert, and my heart struggling to beat in rhythm with the  Radical Shepherd, I follow.  I get distracted.  I hear other voices.  I don’t always love or pray for my enemy…or even worse, my friends.  But I have heard his voice and I know that only he has the words of life.

So today I am thankful to be a RADICAL dumb sheep following the One who said, ‘By this they will know you are my dumb sheep because you will love one another as I have loved you.’  [paraphrase, completely Carolyn]

Beats Superficial anytime!

 

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Thanksgiving Day 14: For the Extra Mile

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In the Roman World, a soldier of the Emperor could require a another person to carry his pack one mile. That was the Law of Rome. No one defied Roman Law without serious consequences so average Joe bystander stopped whatever he was doing, picked up the pack and carried it the required mile, not one step farther.

If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. (‭Matthew‬ ‭5‬:‭41‬ NIV)

Jesus carried that one mile farther…why? Just to be an over achiever? To what end? To gain brownie points with the Roman army? Not likely to happen. That extra mile surely raised similar questions for the soldier.

“What is this joker trying to prove? If he thinks he is getting paid for this, he is crazy. And why is he smiling? I think I have a real nut case on my hands.”

“Where are you from?” The pack carrier asks.

“Galatia…why do you care? Here give me back my pack. You go on now.”

“Nah, I’m good. I like getting to know people who travel this road. Got a family?”

“Not that it is any business of yours, but yes my parents, a wife and two sons. Why are you doing this?”

“What? Oh, you ask me to carry your pack so I am carrying it.”

“But we passed the mile marker.”

“Oh, right, but you see I met a Man, named Jesus awhile back and he suggested going two miles instead of one and you know I like it. Why here we are having a conversation and we wouldn’t get the opportunity many other times. My name is Joseph by the way, what’s yours?”

“What business….Cassius.”

See, I no longer see you as one of the Roman oppressors, no insult intended, but as Cassius from Galatia, with a family. A man doing his job, like I do mine. This extra mile has blessed me so much.”

“Really? Tell me just who is this Jesus fellow?”

I am grateful to have had those who have gone the extra mile for me even when I was not gracious about it, because through them Christ became a living fact in my life. I am grateful to be able to go the extra mile for others those in the family of God and those without Christ. Thank you Lord for the Extra Mile.

Thanksgiving 2014 Day Nine: When my Life Offends Sin

In a Sunday School class once, a healthy discussion of how ‘different’ we Christians needed to be sprung up. Not one of us wanted to be beating folks over the head with the Bible, but surely there was more to living a Christ-like life than just hoping others outside the faith would notice how good we were being. We all had known some pagans who led morally exemplary lives by the World’s standards. And likewise, I thought to myself, my life viewed by others might not demonstrate Christ to the world.

One person in the group said, “We should use Christ as our example and he never offended anyone.” Several heads nodded. Then a soft male voice broke in to our shared agreement.

“Well, He offended someone, because He ended up on a cross.”

That factual statement turned the discussion and though I cannot speak for the others it has stayed with me since.

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Turning to the gospels, looking at the prophets before Jesus, I find a pattern of living that doesn’t quite fit in with the culture, a manner of speaking the word of God so others are engaged, a heart that really cares and wants to prevent the World from “going to hell in a hand basket.” I sometimes forget that while Jesus spoke his most condemning words toward the self righteous, the leaders of the religious order, HE did it so that they would turn and be saved.

And we know that at least three Pharisees were: Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Saul of Tarsus.

Hard as insult, persecution, and lies aimed at me are when they come because of my Christianity, because of Christ, I am blessed. I don’t need to purposefully seek to OFFEND, in fact, if I set out to offend then I am really off base. Nevertheless, I must be prepared to live and speak from the heart of Grace as one beggar offering another beggar a place to find bread.

I must see all insults to Christians everywhere as insults to Jesus and pray for Christians throughout the world. Hard as it is I must rejoice and be glad because great is their reward in heaven.

Lord Jesus, when we participate in your suffering because of our lives lived in your name, we are blessed. I give you thanks for this life of grace You have given. Amen

Thanksgiving 2014 Day Five: Poor in Spirit

imageIn my life I have been poor by the standards of the world. Frankly, I did not consider myself blessed. In fact I was ashamed of my poverty, worked to cover it up in any way I could. One Thanksgiving, our church brought us thanksgiving dinner. We were the “poor family”. Was I grateful? No, I was mortified and embarrassed to be singled out as poor.

And yet, now I look back embarrassed at my lack of gratitude and am grateful to have experienced poverty. Why? Because of having been materially poor I understand the correlation to spiritual poverty. I found the following definition of “poor in spirit:”

‘To be poor in spirit is to recognize your utter spiritual bankruptcy before God. It is understanding that you have absolutely nothing of worth to offer God. Being poor in spirit is admitting that, because of your sin, you are completely destitute spiritually and can do nothing to deliver yourself from your dire situation. Jesus is saying that, no matter your status in life, you must recognize your spiritual poverty before you can come to God in faith to receive the salvation He offers.’*

To be blessed because I am poor in spirit, I cannot pretend before God, all my sanctimonious mutterings, my religious fervor, my piety does not fool Him for one nano second. Clearly, Jesus shows us God does not favor the “spiritually elite”. Dressing up in church finery cannot hide the filthy rags beneath or dampen the stench of decay.

In my ungratefulness on that Thanksgiving as a child I failed to recognize the love expressed by Christians who cared. Every mouthful tasted awful, because I resented being poor and I resented others knowing I was poor.

How easy it could be to reject God’s Great Thanksgiving Banquet! What an utter waste that would be. So before God and all I admit, I am impoverished, destitute spiritually. Without accepting the gift of salvation and entering the dining room of God with Thanksgiving, I am nothing. Entering, I join other beggars who have found bread and I am blessed. For the blessing of spiritual poverty I am grateful.

* Read more: http://www.gotquestions.org/poor-in-spirit.html#ixzz3How31jyd

What I Learned about Heaven and Hell from Jesus’ Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man

Jesus said, “There was a rich man who always dressed in the finest clothes and lived in luxury every day. And a very poor man named Lazarus, whose body was covered with sores, was laid at the rich man’s gate. He wanted to eat only the small pieces of food that fell from the rich man’s table. And the dogs would come and lick his sores. Later, Lazarus died, and the angels carried him to the arms of Abraham. The rich man died, too, and was buried. In the place of the dead, he was in much pain. The rich man saw Abraham far away with Lazarus at his side. He called, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me! Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am suffering in this fire!’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember when you were alive you had the good things in life, but bad things happened to Lazarus. Now he is comforted here, and you are suffering. Besides, there is a big pit between you and us, so no one can cross over to you, and no one can leave there and come here.’ The rich man said, ‘Father, then please imagesend Lazarus to my father’s house. I have five brothers, and Lazarus could warn them so that they will not come to this place of pain.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have the law of Moses and the writings of the prophets; let them learn from them.’ The rich man said, ‘No, father Abraham! If someone goes to them from the dead, they would believe and change their hearts and lives.’ But Abraham said to him, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not listen to someone who comes back from the dead.’ ” (Luke 16:19-31 NCV)

Recently, I heard a sermon at a church we were visiting that brought me back to this parable of Jesus. I realized the parable had SO much to tell me about heaven and even more to tell me about hell. Imagine that, there is still capacity to learn at my age and even more that God wants to teach me.

The first part of the parable deals with two men living very different lives on earth. One has money, privilege, he is living in the lap of luxury and whether he simply cannot see the suffering right outside his gate or he simply chooses to ignore it. I don’t know, but what I do know is that the man suffering in poverty and poor health has a name, which gives him greater distinction in Jesus’ story than the rich man. His name is Lazarus.

While the rich man disregards Lazarus, Lazarus sees the rich man and longs not to bring him down to his level, but to merely have crumbs from his table, discarded bits of garbage from the rich man to eat. Street dogs give him more regard than the man with plenty.

BUT, both men die. Jesus tells this part with the matter of fact attitude death deserves in the God’s Grand Scheme. Rich or poor, all flesh eventually fails and dies. Here is where the heaven and hell stuff begin and here is what I learned.

Angels carry Lazarus, not a nameless beggar, but a person whose name God knows to the arms of Abraham (heaven). There he is alive, comforted, and sees only the beauty and grace of God. In hell, on the other hand, the rich man suffers physically, mentally, spiritually.

So much for the attitude that says “I’d rather party in hell than strum a harp in heaven.” The rich man in hell is very aware of heaven. He sees the lavish life Lazarus is living. Like Lazarus once longed for the rich man’s crumbs, he longs for a single drop of the living water of heaven. Imagine the torment in hell as the damned see heaven constantly from the pit. Imagine realizing that the chasm between cannot be crossed after death, but also imagine the rich man’s anguish as he recalls his brothers who are still living on earth without benefit of salvation.

Hell isn’t some good old boy’s club or “Cheers, where everybody knows your name”. In hell you don’t even have a number let alone a name and like the rich man in his torment, no one there wants to see the people they love join them. There is no party! There is loneliness and regret. One may never have cared whether family or friends found Jesus on earth, but based on Jesus parable, in Hell they are begging for their redemption. If we Christians had one ounce of the passion for the lost that the rich man exhibited in hell, we could change the world.

Once in heaven we cannot see the other side. We will not dwell on the citizens of hell, but in hell those citizens see what they rejected, pay the price, and long not to have another person join them. We see glimpses of this desire for others to be saved here on earth…people who have experienced hellish life styles that destroyed themselves and others before finding Christ usually make the most passionate evangelists.

I really don’t like thinking about hell and yet here in this week before Palm Sunday, I realize Jesus thought about it, taught about it and experienced it for ALL Creation, so I cannot ignore it. So today I am praying for the Lost…especially, those who think they have it all together and simply do not need God and for those who think God doesn’t exist and that death is simply switching off the lights.

 

Spiritual Arrhythmia–Christmas Reset

Along with my physical issues this morning as I coughed most of the night, I realized my spiritual issues were greater. As I read the scripture from the #She Reads Truth devotional two days ago, I knew it was time to let God do a little heart surgery, so I can truly carry the Christmas heartbeat wherever I go…today not far from this couch, but hey! it is a start.

Even if my letter made you sad, I am not sorry I wrote it. At first I was sorry, because it made you sad, but you were sad only for a short time. Now I am happy, not because you were made sad, but because your sorrow made you change your lives. You became sad in the way God wanted you to, so you were not hurt by us in any way.

The kind of sorrow God wants makes people change their hearts and lives. This leads to salvation, and you cannot be sorry for that. But the kind of sorrow the world has brings death. See what this sorrow—the sorrow God wanted you to have—has done to you: It has made you very serious. It made you want to restore yourselves. It made you angry and afraid. It made you want to see me. It made you care. It made you want to do the right thing. In every way you have regained your innocence. (2 Corinthians 7:8-11 NCV)

Imagine that, letting God in, seeing my sin as He does and longing be all that Christmas can be to the world…read the last sentence again…He sets our heart in rhythm with His and restores our innocence. No white washing my sin, but resetting within.

Everywhere the sounds of Christmas
Fill the streets, the stores, the steeples
Christmas music everywhere

Everywhere the looks of Christmas
Cover homes, churches, people
Christmas lights city squares

Everywhere the feel of Christmas
Peace, love, and joy know no equal
Imitations are everywhere.

Little Drummer Boy
Little Drummer Boy

There is a rhythm to Christmas
The sound of a little boy’s drum
There is a heartbeat to Christmas
That announces a savior has come

In me is the heartbeat of Christmas
But it gets out of sync now and then
Overwhelmed by imitations of Christmas
It falters, it misses, it sins.

Everywhere the sounds of Christmas
Hear a baby’s cry in the night
Christmas sounds everywhere

Everywhere the sights of Christmas
In the darkness there is a new light
Christmas sights everywhere

Everywhere the feel of Christmas
Christ resetting our hearts to do right
Christmas action everywhere

So here in these morning hours
Considering Christmas without and within
Shock my heart back into rhythm with yours, Lord Jesus
Clean out my spiritual arteries of all the debris
that threatens to steal the joy of Christmas
like the Grinch stole Whoville’s presents and trees
I don’t care if this rhymes
Or follows Poetry guidelines
I haven’t got the time
My heart needs a reset right now
So I can carry Christmas with me everywhere.

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, preaching the Good News from God. He said, “The right time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Change your hearts and lives and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:14, 15 NCV)

The Power of a Grateful Heart–The Perseverance Factor

imageWe are surrounded by a great cloud of people whose lives tell us what faith means. So let us run the race that is before us and never give up. We should remove from our lives anything that would get in the way and the sin that so easily holds us back. Let us look only to Jesus, the One who began our faith and who makes it perfect. He suffered death on the cross. But he accepted the shame as if it were nothing because of the joy that God put before him. And now he is sitting at the right side of God’s throne. Think about Jesus’ example. He held on while wicked people were doing evil things to him. So do not get tired and stop trying. (Hebrews 12:1-3 NCV)

imageI completed reading John Grisham’s latest book SYCAMORE ROW yesterday afternoon. In case you do not know, it is a sequel to his very first book, A TIME TO KILL, which until this summer I had not read. I can recommend both, although be prepared the beginning of his first book, if you have not read it, is so graphic it left me in tears and chills. I do not intend to review the books here so read them if you would like.

As I began to think about being thankful for the growth of perseverance in my life, I could not help but include a scene from SYCAMORE ROW. In the episode, Harry Rex, lawyer and friend of Jake Brigance senses that Jake is about to give it up. The odds of a win being astronomically low, he reminds Jake who he is.

From Sycamore Row by John Grisham:

“No, I remember when you were quarterback for scrawny little Karraway, never had a winning season, as I recall. What was the worst a..-whipping you ever took on the field?”
“Ripley beat us fifty to nothing my junior year.”
“How bad was it at halftime?”
“Thirty-six to nothing.”
“And did you quit?”
“No, I was the quarterback.”
“Okay, you knew you were not going to win at halftime, but you led the team back onto the field for the second half, and you kept playing. You didn’t quit them and you can’t quit now. A win looks pretty doubtful at this time, but you gotta drag your a.. back onto the field. Right now you look thoroughly defeated and the jury is watching every move you make. Eat your vegetables like a good boy and let’s go.”

The gift of perseverance does not ever guarantee that the outcome even when you are RIGHT will be victory. However, I understand now more than I ever did before that quitting in the face of defeat guarantees a loss. And, not just a loss in that moment but a setback that makes the courage to persevere in the next arena of life even harder. As Vince Lombardi once said:

“Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.”

So I thank God for the opportunities he has given me to muddle, push, force, or drag through. No one, at least no one in their right mind, gets down on their knees and prays , “Oh, Lord, I don’t have enough trouble, trials, or hardships. Send me more.” What I pray is, “Lord, I cannot do this by myself. Stay with me, help me and if possible take these trials away from me.” My example in this is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed, “If possible, take this cup from me.” Then he rose met his accusers and went to the Cross. Each day as a Christian, we are called to take up our cross and follow him.

Jesus faced not only the excruciating physical abuse of the cross, he faced and persevered through the spiritual anguish of being separated from the Father. Because of His perseverance on the Cross, you and I have the promise that He “will never leave” us or “forsake” us. In the valleys, the mountaintops, and the plateaus of our lives he is present. He has taken up residence in our very beings and will not abandon us no matter what…even if I quit, he won’t quit.

So I thank God for His perseverance in my life and for teaching me daily how much he loves me and wants me to continue to serve Him until He takes me home.So in the words of Harry Rex, that great theologian (NOT): “Eat your vegetables like a good boy and let’s go.” Thank you John Grisham for another wonderful book.

The Power of a Grateful Heart–The Ultimate Help Button Thankfulness

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Recently after being retired for over a year I agreed to work a couple of days a week to help out during my friend Cathrine’s maternity leave. Having worked for the Commonwealth of Kentucky for the last 11 years of my career, having traveled extensively throughout the state on the job in a state owned vehicle, and having to be able to get “on-line” in numerous offices, I had all the “Help” numbers at my fingertips and some committed to memory. So it really did not come as a surprise that my temporary fill in position would come with its own set of user names, passwords, special codes for the badge entries. Not only that but once you get a password automatically programmed into your fingers, they require you to change it. Fortunately, they, too, have several “Help” numbers for the various ports of entry required to check schedules, do dictation, review and electronically sign dictation, etc., etc., etc.

In my personal and family life I have a number of help resources as well and I file them under “favorites” on my phone. Nothing makes me sadder than realizing there are folks who have no “help” buttons they can push easily or some who have none at all. I get a sick feeling in my stomach, when I hear stories of folks found dead in their homes because of the odor not because someone cared and came to check on them.

About 4 years before my mother died, while my brother who lived with her was at work, my Mom got stuck, rather unceremoniously on the toilet. The lifted seat that helped her rise had been removed for some reason and so when she sat down, she stayed down. Her wireless phone was out of reach. Several people, including me, tried to reach her that afternoon and after I could not after 3 tries, I called my son in Tulsa to go check on his grandmother. Before he got there, my sister-in-law who also had tried to reach her got there and helped her up. Still, she had sat there for over 2 hours. After that, we got her a Lifeline button, which she did use more than once. She was a bit miffed at me, though I was two states away and did not know her schedule completely, that I had not realized after the first phone call that she needed help. Daughters should be privy to their mother’s prayers to God, just because that’s the way it should be.

I am thankful that my Mom knew how to call on the Ultimate Helper throughout her life from the time she was a little girl. One of the greatest gifts she gave me was a childhood where attending church was expected, so that I could have a base of faith on which to grow. It took me a long time. I was an adult before I came to even understand that The Lord God of the Universe loved me and wanted to guard me, protect me, and save my soul. It took me even longer to understand that there will still be stumbling, falling, and crawling, but He’s got me and there is nothing in this world or the next that can defeat him or cause him to lose his grip.

So today I am grateful that I know how to reach the Ultimate Help Desk with the piddling little issues and with the gigantic overwhelming issues. He promises he will keep me:

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, Nor the moon by night. The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in From this time forth and forever. (Psalms 121:1-8 NASB)

My user name is Redeemed
My password is Jesus

Thanks be to God for being the helper who never leaves even if all others should run away. He will carry me across when the time comes in his arms and all my need for HELP will disappear in that passing.

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The Power of a Grateful Heart–Weakness Gratitude

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If I must boast, I will boast of the things that [show] my infirmity [of the things by which I am made weak and contemptible in the eyes of my opponents]. (2 Corinthians 11:30 AMP)

I participate in a Fitness Class with an over 50 age range. Many of the exercises focus on strength training, working with weights, wall sits, squats. And, in my attempts to keep my mind strong, I read and listen to books, I do cryptograms, I write, and I play Words with Friends…ok the last one may or may not keep my mind strong. I desire to be spiritually strong also and so engage in the four “W’s”, Worship, Word, Witness, and Work. Strength, being strong, being able to “leap tall buildings with a single bound”, having others comment on how strong a person one is, along with beauty, power, riches, etc., we cultivate the importance of being strong.

And, yet

I am weak. No amount of strength training, aerobics, Zumba–those three classes about killed me, no matter how many books I read, concerts I attend, memory exercises I complete, no extended Bible study or prayer time will turn back the clock or make me STRONG!

And, yet

I am thankful for all my weaknesses, for the time I collapsed into the arms of Jesus 30 plus years ago and said, “I cannot go on another minute like I am. Save me or Kill me.” “I am weak but he is strong.” (Just a Closer Walk with Thee, Lyric author unknown).

Whatever anyone sees in me as strength comes from Jesus, from the Holy Spirit living in me. As I yield myself and disentangle myself from trying to do things on my own, He lifts me to my feet, cuts off the tangled mess of overdoing, leads me to rest by his still waters and restore my soul. He shoves me or leads me, whatever it takes, into the midst of life with all its heartaches, triumphs, tragedies, trials, routines, appointments, and grumpy people, who are so like that old woman in the mirror, so I can discover the transformation of my weakness when dependent on His strength.

But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you. When you are weak, my power is made perfect in you.” So I am very happy to brag about my weaknesses. Then Christ’s power can live in me. (2 Corinthians 12:9 NCV)

So I am

Thankful for my weakness

And

Thankful that I can help those weaker than I am by telling them about the ONE who can do more that “leap tall buildings”, the ONE who can take a weak woman like myself and fill me with his strength.

I showed you in all things that you should work as I did and help the weak. I taught you to remember the words Jesus said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20:35 NCV)

By the way, I am still going to fitness center, reading, praying, worshipping, etc. Because God meets me there and strengthens me. He just doesn’t let me get too caught up in my “self-help” plan and reminds me occasionally that my flesh is weak and not so young anymore. LOL image

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