For several years now, I have taken time and given much thought to a theme or driving principle for the year. I begin the process in the fall, September or October. When I decide I contact Premier Designs and have a bracelet engraved with the word. Then I wear the bracelet all year as a reminder. Two years ago my word was “persevere.” Last year I chose “Go further!” And for 2021, my word is “makarioi.” Makarioi is the Greek word used in the Beatitudes, often translated happy or blessed.
Makarioi. It means so much more to me.
A couple years back, I did a sermon series on the Beatitudes and I discovered that the word Jesus used was much richer than what seemed to be the typical, superficial translation—especially when translated happy. The word has more to do with thriving or flourishing.
Think about it for minute. There’s nothing happy about being dependent, or mourning, meek, or persecuted. Jesus wasn’t advocating living in misery. The perspective he offered related to the way we face the circumstances of life. Will we choose to recognize how blessed we are in spite of what is being thrown at us, dragging us down, discouraging us…You get the idea.
Will we choose to strive, to thrive, to flourish?
Here I will have to echo Paul’s words: not that I have already obtained all this, but I press on (Philippians 3:12-14).
Until then, I’ll wear the bracelet and keep pressing on.
This morning I have had everything from moist eyes to full-out sobs.
The first tears came as I was reading material for my message on Sunday. I am continuing my series on “Continuing the Work of Jesus, Simply” by focusing on Jesus’ compassionate invitation to learn from him the “unforced rhythms of grace (Peterson’s translation Matthew 11:29 in the Message). During my study this morning, I came across this quote: “But they had limited evidence. They did not see the end from the beginning. They drew their conclusion only from what they saw, not from the infinite wisdom of God. And, even so, they looked at the evidence through prejudiced eyes. The Christ must behave according to their own pattern, or else He was not the Christ. It is no wonder that they came out with the wrong answer.” (An Exposition of the Four Gospels Matthew, Herschel H. Hobbs, p. 141)
How like today? We still don’t get it. Tears.
Then I read a Facebook post from a high school friend. Yesterday was her birthday. Two weeks ago one of her dogs died right in the middle of playing out in the yard. This morning they had to put their other dog down because they discovered bladder cancer. My heart broke. I sobbed. (Typing this now even a couple hours later, I wept all over again.)
How like today? Sorrow, disappointment, aching. Tears.
I had just gone back to reading when Mom tapped on my door. She brought me a section of the paper. The USA Today published an insert, “Women of the Century, 100 Women Who Changed the World.” In January they invited nominations of notable women. Then a committee put the list and bios together. As a woman who felt a calling from a very young age to a predominately male occupation, christian minister, I have experienced prejudice, nastiness, and discrimination for forty years. I shed many tears and sometimes begged God to remove this calling from my life. But I have also been supported by other women clergy who understand in multiple denominations. I have been encouraged remain faithful. Reading over the names and bios, seeing their pictures, reminded me that I am not alone in this battle, and there’s still much work to do. Work I have been and will be given to do.
How like today. We are still fighting: to be heard, to be recognized, to make a difference. But we do not fight alone. Tears.
Tears. Why do I cry this day?
I cry because some days I still don’t understand the “whys” of my life. Why I’m here and my husband there. Why I had to quit the one job in my life I loved like no other. I don’t want to come out with the wrong answer. But I will lament…release…and keep seeking to serve even when I don’t get it.
I cry because loss is a part of living. I cry because sorrow can blindside us. I cry because losing the things I treasure, value…love hurts. And to say that it doesn’t is a lie. To hurt indicates that we had something special and now it’s gone. How fortunate we were to have those things. But that doesn’t mean something else, possibly more perfect or valuable won’t come along. Grieving, acknowledging what was lost, enables me to keep living—treasuring the memory and making room for whatever is next.
I cry because others have to struggle. Being gifted, intelligent, and motivated doesn’t guarantee an easy road. The prejudice of others, the insecurity of others, the selfishness of others can throw painful blocks, detours, and frustrations in our path to fulfilling our callings. But clearly, we do not walk this road alone. Others have gone before us. Others walk alongside us. Others are placing their trust in our faithfulness.
This morning I wept. And oddly, I feel a clarity and strength, a desire to keep on. I’ve laid that burden down. And look ahead.
9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you such a long time, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father. So how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? John 14:9
I’ve been married for 36 years. You would think in that time I would have learned everything there is to know about my husband. But no. New things pop and I wondered how I could be with him all that time and not know him.
Jesus wondered the same thing about the disciples. He had just told the disciples he was the only way to the Father and if you have seen him, then you see, know, the Father.
Phillip was not one for Jesus double speak. “Just show us God.” Plain and simple.
Jesus must have shook his head as he replied, “When you look at me, listen to me, watch me interact, see me love…you have seen the hand of God, the heart of God, the mind of God…the plan of God.”
Perhaps we shouldn’t give Phillip and the gang so much grief for not getting it. How often do we wonder? How many times have we prayed to see God more clearly? How many people have spent their entire lives in church, going to Sunday school, studying the Word…and still not see…still not know?
PRAYER: God, you want so much for us to understand, to know you, that you came in a form we could relate to…Jesus. Open our eyes to really see who you are…how you are…and how you want us to be. Amen.
20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. Romans 1:20
Once upon a time, in a very distant church, a young pastor was given the task of providing children’s stories during the Sunday morning worship hour. That pastor was me and I loved it.
It was so much fun to bring spiritual applications to the wide open minds and hearts of children.
It wasn’t hard for me because I grew up believing Romans 1:20. I sang about it in church choir. I can still sing the song. “There is enough of God in nature, his power is clearly shown. A man has no excuse for wandering. God and heaven are known. God and heaven are known.” (You can find the whole musical on youtube: The Apostle-Continental Singers 1973.)
I am wired to see spiritual things in common place things. This is so true one girl told her mom she thought I could make a sermon illustration out of a booger. I probably could, but I’ve refrained and restrained myself.
But it all came back when I was making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
My grandson is in a PBJ phase. But a simple sandwich is not enough for him. He prefers one that looks more like this:
He is happiest with a super thick layer of chunky peanut butter and a thin smear of strawberry jam…and it has to be triple decker.
So can God be seen in a triple decker PBJ sandwich?
I don’t mean like some people see him:
What I referring to is seeing God in the ordinary, the everyday.
What spiritual implication is there in a PBJ? I think we all go through phases where we want to taste and see that God is good (Psalm 34:8), but he wants to be the God of exceedingly, abundantly, above (Ephesians 3:20).
When we reach for all that God is, we find satisfaction and fullness of life.
Where will you see God today?
PRAYER: God of everywhere, thank you for wanting to be seen, wanting to be known. Open my eyes to see you, my ears to hear you…my heart to receive you. Speak to me in the ordinary, plain, and everyday things around me. Amen.
Someone described those clay jars as cracked pots.
Not everyone would be able to understand or appreciate this thought. Those with wealth and means would not put their treasures in clay jars. Their treasures would be kept in the most beautiful and exquisite vases.
God, the creator and Lord of the universe, however, chose to put his treasure in common clay pots. Humble pots. Pots from humus…earth. That’s where we came from.
Imperfect pots chosen intentionally “so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7, NRSV)
Are you feeling broken? Unusable? Used up? Worthless? Rejoice! You’re exactly what God wants to use. You are not full of yourself or thinking too highly of yourself.
Those cracks you try to hide, they’re perfect places and spaces for the light of God to shine through.
Yesterday we considered God appearing as a gentle nudge, how he arrives gently and naturally on the scene. This appearance is comforting to me.
Sometimes, however, he has to explode onto the scene to get my attention. This is what he did with Paul:
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him.4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (Acts 9:1-9, ESV)
Do you find it interesting that Paul knew immediately who was speaking to him? He knew who was showing up in that blinding light. It was the Lord. Instant recognition and obedience. Paul’s companions were there as witnesses–a good thing to have when you’re going through a major life changing experience.
God burst into Paul’s life. Was that the only way he could have gotten Paul’s attention? Would Paul have ignored the gentle nudges? Can you relate? Have there been times when you stubbornly ignored God’s more gentler attempts to get your attention? Did it take a more earth shaking, life changing, event to break through your reluctance, your arrogance?
I know what it’s like…perhaps that why I prefer the nudges.
But either way, it’s good to know God knows how to get our attention.
PRAYER: God, thank you for breaking into my life, my awareness, my mess just the way you need to in order to get my attention. Nudge me or blind me, but don’t let me get away from what I need to hear today. My ears, my eyes, and my heart is open. Amen.
So far in this journey, we have been focusing on our seeking or looking for Jesus. For a few days I want to think about how God chose to show himself.
One of my favorite resurrection stories is the encounter Jesus had with the Emmaus Road travelers.
Can you imagine the saddness these two felt? Everything they hope for seems gone. They counted on Jesus being the one and now he was gone. What would they do? How would they face their family and friends.
And Jesus comes up and starts walking with them. He acts like a clueless traveler to hear their story…their sadness…their disillusion.
Today just read the story. Ask God to show you where and when you have been disappointed and disillusioned and how he came along side and helped you to see more clearly.
13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem,14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened.15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad.18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him.21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is nowthe third day since these things happened.22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning,23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive.24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”27 And beginning withMoses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther,29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them.30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.32 They said to each other,“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while heopened to us the Scriptures?”33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together,34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:13-35)
PRAYER: Jesus, thank you for traveling with us on our roads of confusion. Thank you Holy Spirit for opening our eyes. Sometimes we are so focused on the problems, and our sadness so overwhelms us that we are unable to see or recognize you. Keep walking with us for we want to see you. Amen.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)
So not only do we have to seek him with all our heart…but our heart must be pure.
Have noticed we spend a lot of time trying to distinguish between heart issues and mind matters? We verbalize the struggle by saying things like, “My heart’s telling me to do one thing and my head’s saying something completely different. It’s like we’re a raging battle field.
The crowd that originally received Jesus’ message wouldn’t have had as great a struggle. They understood the “heart” to be the central to who they were–it encompassed everything.
Fortunately, the purity Jesus speaks of is not one of complete perfection, but of focus. Soren Kerkegaard sums it up pretty well for me:
It is the heart, the person who has chosen to focus in, who will SEE God and as a result, they will be blessed.
And this “blessed,” this is more than happy. It’s not a reward. It’s about grace.
There is no other thing that will satisfy. I am willing to set everything else aside. I want God more than anything. And he honors that desire by revealing himself to me. To you. To us.
Yeah, I’d say that’s a blessing for sure.
PRAYER: God, I see a lot of things in my day. But I want to see you. Purify my heart. Help me to find that singleness of purpose, will, and life. I admit sometimes I seek the blessing without the focus. Forgive me and purify my motives as you purify my heart. Amen
26 From one man[f] He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. 27 He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. 28 For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring. (Acts 17:26-28)
This sermon of Paul’s is one of my favorite passages. As I was preparing this series and meditating on it once again, I was reminded of David’s words in Psalm 139:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me. 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. 3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. 5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
I used to struggle with the whole ‘hemmed in’ part of this text. When I was little my parents put a fence around our swingset and that was where we were allowed to play. We had a large yard where we could have played, and we could see other children running freely from yard to yard. I spent hours on my swing longing for that kind of freedom.
As I grew I had a nagging sense of dissatisfaction and feeling that there must be more–like the best things were being withheld from me. What I didn’t see as a child, or even later as an adult, was that this “hemming in” was for my protection. My parents wanted to keep me away from the busy streets that ran along side and in front of our house. They did it out of love, not some maniacal desire to make my life miserable.
God works the same way.
And when I learn to live contently within those safe boundaries, I’m also able to see God more clearly. When I reach out, I can find him because he’s near and wants to be found.
Have you felt like God is keeping you from something? Do you look at the world with envy, like I did the other kids outside my fenced in yard? If so, here’s your challenge for today. Instead of complaining, thank him for the protection he’s provided. You may never know what disasters or disastrous choices he may have saved you from.
He is here. He is near. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow.
PRAYER: O God, our Protector. Thank you for the way you ‘hem us in.’ You hold us and withhold the things that would cause us harm. Your Word tells us you do not withhold any good thing. Forgive us our pouty ways and grow greater trust in our hearts. Amen