Unlikeliest Hero

It is a rare thing that the moment I start to write, my eyes fill with tears and the truth of what I’m thinking overwhelms my heart and mind.

But it just happened.

This morning during breakfast, Mom made some comment about heroes. I can’t even recall what it was because it immediately sent me into my head where I began formulated this post. I was so into it, I excused myself from the table and hurried to jot down some notes I could come back to after I was done cleaning up from breakfast.

Heroes. We all want them…need them. And if we would get honest, want to be one.

This past year while we’ve done battle with a raging pandemic, we’ve lauded the efforts of first responders, medical professionals, and those researching for a vaccine. Politically, we’ve sought for a restoration to civility and accountability. Emotionally we’ve longed for answers, peace, and a return to normal or comfort or familiar.

Many years ago, my husband and I watched a television program called the Equalizer. Then there were two movies with the same premise starring Denzel Washington. Now Queen Latifa has reprised the role and hooked me once again.

I stopped typing and called my husband (keeping in mind the 3 hour time difference). I told him what I was doing and then asked him why the original show hooked him? What was it that appealed. He put words to what my heart was feeling: it was like a modern Robin Hood of sorts. Robert and Robyn McCall as the equalizers brought/brings help for the oppressed; help for those who can’t help themselves.

Thinking about his statement sent me down another path—a spiritual one. Imagine that.

This past Sunday was Palm Sunday. I made a reference to the Christmas song, “How Many Kings.” As we move through Holy Week toward the resurrection, a phrase from that song keeps going through my mind. Referring to the baby Jesus, the words describe him as the “unlikeliest hero” for he was wrapped in his mother’s shawl.

This week, Jesus is wrongfully accused, murdered, and laid to rest in a borrowed tomb. Talk about an unlikely hero.

Our heroes don’t die. Or do they?

Shouldn’t our heroes be the ones who give up their lives. Jesus tried to explain this to the disciples: There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13, NLT).

Paul described this to the Philippians this way: You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8, NLT).

Jesus gave up the fullness of his super powers and maybe that’s what made him an unlikely hero. But the way lived, died, and rose again demonstrated God’s power to the max! Those powers may be overlooked by the world that is mesmerized by flash and boom. But Jesus, like the Equalizer, was and is more concerned about helping those who can’t help themselves…about bringing relief to the oppressed .

That’s the kind of hero I want to be. The kind of hero this needs more of. We may seem to be unlikely heroes…but we can change the world by following Jesus’ example, by having his mind.

He gave his all…all for me…all for you…just like the song says.

Strength For Shaky Times

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Psalm 121 1-2 I look up to the mountains;
    does my strength come from mountains?
No, my strength comes from God,
    who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.

3-4 He won’t let you stumble,
    your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.
Not on your life! Israel’s
    Guardian will never doze or sleep.

5-6 God’s your Guardian,
    right at your side to protect you—
Shielding you from sunstroke,
    sheltering you from moonstroke.

7-8 God guards you from every evil,
    he guards your very life.
He guards you when you leave and when you return,
    he guards you now, he guards you always. (The Message)

Negative news. Fake news. No news. Too much information. Confusing and conflicting words coming from sources that should encourage us, solidify us, comfort us…direct us. Who do we believe? Who can we believe? What do we want to believe?

If my peace, my strength, only comes from external and world-based sources, I will always be tossed about, unsettled, and lost.

My strength, my peace comes from a source that is consistent, unshakeable, and always right on time.

The One who is my strength will not allow me to stumble, not from weakness nor in the dark. None of the confusion swirling around me occurs without the awareness of the One who created everything and promises to make all things new.

This One, this creator, is also the shield providing relief and protection. The promise rings true: God is not going anywhere—whether we are close or running, struggling or resting. This One who knows us best and loves us most guards us now and always.

Find your peace there. Find your strength there.

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More Bubble Thoughts

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I love bubbles. And I love the thoughts that bubble up with them.

This morning when I closed the Dawn bottle at the end of dishwashing, I watched to see if I would be rewarded with a few bubbles. The smallest bubble I’d ever seen escaped from the bottle.

It was a baby bubble. And while some may have groused at it’s minuscule size—bemoaning not only it’s quality, but lack of quantity—I giggled. And then I became thank-full.

My itty-bitty friend reminded my of my least favorite hymn: Showers of Blessing. I loathe the chorus: Mercy drops round us are falling, but for the showers we plead.

I prefer a different hymn and way of looking at things…like my tiny bubble. In the hymn, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, we are reminded of the words from Lamentations: “Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed Thy hand hath provided.”

Big or small, all good gifts come from the One who loves us and knows what we need (see James 1:17).

So today, let’s not miss the smaller blessings that come our way while beg and expect great things to happen.

 

Hopefully Devoted: Not What I Want…

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When the disciples of Jesus saw the followers of John had a “prayer,” they went to Jesus and asked him to teach them to pray.

I wonder if Jesus shook his head, looked at the ground and thought, “You already have one…in fact you have many. What do you think the Psalms are? You already know this.”

But what he said and did was give them the format for prayer that we know as “The Lord’s Prayer.” And many parts sound like they come from Psalm 143. Consider verse 10: “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground (NIV).”

Thinking then on Jesus praying in Gethsemene sent me to examine the rest of the Psalm:

1 Lord, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.
2 Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you.
3 The enemy pursues me,
he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in the darkness
like those long dead.
4 So my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is dismayed.
5 I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.
6 I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.[a]
7 Answer me quickly, Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
8 Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.
9 Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
for I hide myself in you.
10 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.
11 For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life;
in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.
12 In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am your servant.

In the Garden, Jesus’ prayer boiled down to: not my will but yours be done.

He taught us in word and action to pray for God’s will—not our will, or our wants.

Message Meme: Rocks and Their Role

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Holy Week begins with Jesus making an surprising entry and ends with an amazing exit. And rocks play an important part in both. On the way in Jesus tells the shushing Pharisees that even if his followers are silenced the rocks will cry out. Then at the tomb, it is a rock that introduces them to the resurrection: the stone is rolled away!

So while it appears that the rocks are the stars, let us never forget: Jesus is the stone that the builders rejected.

A Saturday Thought: Tattoos

This is a note I posted on Facebook on this date in 2009. It still holds my hope and heart today.

Lent Day 28: Tattoo
March 24, 2009 at 7:40am
Lent Day 28:

My older daughter is visiting us. It is good to have her close and it will be hard to let her go when it’s time, but our connection is good. While she was here, she got another tattoo. This bothers her father. I try to remain neutral. I have to admit that of all the ones she’s gotten, I like this one the best. It’s the Celtic symbol for motherhood—or at least I hope it is!

Over the years both my daughters have tried to talk me into going with them and getting a tattoo. There’s something “special” about doing that, so I’m told. I know that there are biblical comments prohibiting tattooing, but that’s not why I haven’t gone. I am a wuss about pain, but that hasn’t been my deterrent, either. I can’t imagine anything that I want engraved on me for forever. The image of a wilted rose on an 86 year old woman’s body just doesn’t get me all jazzed up.

And yet, somehow, I want my life to be tattooed with Jesus. I want my laughter, my conversation, my touch, my service, my work, my prayers, everything that I am to immediately point to Jesus. As much as I want that, I know that my life is so far from consistent. My heart desperately seeks to live in a way that is pleasing to my Father, but my choices betray my lack of trust and my selfishness. I truly understand the struggle that Paul speaks about in Romans 7.

In my life I have known the absolute bowels of wretchedness. I know what it’s like to screw up so royally that you lose all respect, wallow in shame, and try to rebuild integrity. I’m thankful for grace that makes climbing out of that dark pit possible. I’m thankful that Paul moves from chapter 7 into chapter 8: There is therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

So, if I ever got a tattoo it would be a grapevine bracelet (symbolizing that I am just a branch needing to stay connected to the vine). In the vine would be a turtle (a rich symbol and spiritual totem) and a daisy (for me a symbol of hope and faithfulness). All three would serve as reminders to me to keep living, to keep being fruitful, to truly make every effort. The only place they may ever be is in my heart, but hopefully they will be seen by those Jesus sends my way each day.

Hopefully Devoted: Tears

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I just finished putting together a funeral sermon and when I went to save it…I hit delete instead.

I wanted to cry. My disappointment was great. But I realized I could put it together again and I moved on to writing this post.

I turned back to my devotional, A Guide to Prayer For All Who Walk With God, and found these words: “Tears are deemed a gift by many ancient masters of the spiritual tradition…Tears were, for the ancient church, given to some along with wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy, and the like, for the life of the entire community (Wendy M. Wright, “Tears of a Greening Heart,” Weavings).”

Ms. Wright goes on to link tears to the word compunction, which “literally means ‘to puncture with’…To have our hearts thus ‘punctured’ is both the beginning and the dynamic of the journey.”

I instantly thought of the words to the old hymn:

1 I love thy kingdom, Lord,
the house of thine abode,
the church our blest Redeemer saved
with his own precious blood.
2 I love thy church, O God.
Her walls before thee stand,
dear as the apple of thine eye,
and graven on thy hand.
3 For her my tears shall fall;
for her my prayers ascend;
to her my cares and toils be given,
till toils and cares shall end.

I sat quietly and listened to the questions pounding, puncturing my heart: Do I weep for God’s kingdom? What do my prayers look like, sound like? Does the intensity of my hate for sin drive me to wrestle like Jesus in the Garden? How hard am I working?

Prayer Thoughts: O God. How I wish you could just tap on my heart and find willingness and openness. I’m sure I can count the layers of indifference, excuses, and busyness you must have to go through to even begin to puncture. I don’t want it to be that way. I imagine removing those layers might be painful…and I’m not into pain. But I want your Kingdom, your Spirit, your love to be my focus, aim, my life. Peel and puncture. Let tears of love fall from my heart and become a healing stream for those who thirsting for you around me. Amen.

Selah: What do these stones mean?

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I love walking. I love walking in Arizona when I’m visiting my mom. Feeling blessed to be able to do that this week.

As we travel closer to Palm Sunday and Easter, I have been thinking a lot about rocks.

There are a lot of rocks in Arizona. I took the picture of the rocks on my walk the other day.

I wonder who put them there. I wonder why.

In the Bible, a pile of stones marked a special moment—a sign to remember. In the old hymn, Come Thou Fount, we sing: “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’m come.”

Do you know what that means? We aren’t singing about Scrooge. The verse is a thanks to God for his care in bringing us through or to something.

What has he brought you to…or through lately?

The stack of stones stand as a reminder to you, and a testimony to others that we have a God who goes with us (through whatever we’re facing) and brings us to where he needs and wants us to be.

Prayer: God, some of the things we’re facing seem difficult, confusing…okay—downright impossible. We can only get through with you. Help us. Sustain us. And we will give you thanks…and a testimony.

Sermon Seeds (Way in advance): Stones

I was enjoying a long walk in the coolness of an Arizona morning, when all of a sudden I noticed a sharp pain in my left heel. Somehow my shoe picked up a hitch-hiker:

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I limped over to a railing and extricated the little freeloader. I laughed to think that something so small could stop me dead in my tracks. The pointy edges on this pebble shot pain through my entire body.

Rocks know how to get our attention.

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When Jesus came into Jerusalem on the day we celebrate as Palm Sunday, the people lauded him. Their praise concerned the Pharisees. They told the people to be quiet. Jesus’ response: “If they get quiet, the rocks will cry out.”

Are there those in your sphere of influence who seek to silence your testimony? Will you let them?

God will be praised.

Ain’t gonna let no rock steal my praise!

Sermon Seeds: Build Them Up

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ (Colossians 2:2, NIV).

Way back when I first began my journey in ministry I felt led to this verse in Colossians. Without consciously deciding, I made it the purpose statement for my life: encouraged in heart and united in love, so that the folks I am connected to will be moved to deeper (complete) understanding of the mystery of God, Jesus the Christ.

My life has been spent encouraging others, and working toward unity.

Truth be told: it can be pretty exhausting. Some days I feel like a cheerleader who never gets to rest. And who isn’t always appreciated. I’m sure if you’ve ever been to a sporting event you’ve been trying to carry on a conversation while those responsible for morale and keeping you focused on the game keep yelling louder and louder to try and engage you. They can be enormously annoying.

And don’t get me started on the up-hill battle for unity these days. Everyone has an opinion, and it’s the only one that matters. People would rather be right than in relationship.

Being right. Even if it means putting someone down. Even if that process involves untruth. Even if it means trashing their character.  Even if.

Jesus knew this. The Pharisees and leaders of the day had to be right. And Jesus stood between them and control. So they trumped up false charges. Had people lie about what Jesus did and said. They forced people to break the ninth commandment by paying them to perjur themselves.

And he died, a horrible, cruel death.

They didn’t realize then…and we forget today:

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Prayer thoughts: God help to be more concerned about building each other up. Help us build bridges that result in better relationships and deeper understanding of who you are and how you want us to be. Amen.

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