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.

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.

Wednesday’s Word: Jesus

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Do you remember being a kid in Sunday school—back in the day when the right answer always seemed to be “Jesus”?

It still is.

When you have no words for the hurt in your heart.

Jesus.

When you find yourself at the end of yourself.

Jesus.

When the hours are long and the night is dark.

Jesus.

Or, even when the joy bubbles over in a completely uncontainable manner.

Jesus.

Whisper it…Jesus.

Shout it…Jesus.

Beg, plead, weep it…Jesus.

There’s power in the name of Jesus.

 

Lenten Thoughts: Soil

I don’t have a green thumb.

I have told people throughout my life who might be buying me plants: I need ones that thrive on blatant neglect. I was quite happy to find that someone planted bulbs and plants around my house that keep coming back year after year in spite of me.

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So, you might see the irony like I do that my first real job as a teenager was at a nursery. If that alone doesn’t bring you a chuckle, let me add this: the store was Frank’s Nursery and Crafts. It only gets worse when you know I left there to go to work at McDonald’s.

Tina’s terrible trifecta: Plants, crafts, and food. Perhaps it was good to learn at a young age, I have no gifting in these areas.

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People who knew plants and gardens would come to the Nursery and expect me to understand their plant related dilemmas. Why wouldn’t their impatients grow on the fully exposed side of their house where there was no shade? What kind of fertilizer should they use? How can they correct the Ph balance of their soil? I became adept at reading the plastic identification pics we put in plants that have planting and watering instructions. I also learned to read labels, and when I couldn’t find an answer, I found a manager.

The Nursery survived and thrived on people wanting to have beautiful and productive gardens. We sold soil, and we sold the stuff to make it better. Making sure the soil was ready to plant seeds or plants was essential for successful growth.

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Jesus must have counted on a few farmers and gardeners being in the crowd the day he told the Parable of the Sower. The key piece in this parable is the soil and its ability, or lack of ability, to receive the seed. We immediately catch the absurdity of expecting the seed to grow in soil that is not able to receive it or nourish its growth. A hard packed path, rampant weeds, hungry birds, rocks that block, all inhibit the soil’s ability to do its job.

We usually associate this parable with salvation, make it all about receiving the seed. Anyone who has planted a garden or tended a flowerbed knows the work is not done when the seed goes into the dirt. Plants need watered and weeds need pulled. Often the soil needs to be loosened up or aerated. Then as winter approaches fields, beds, and gardens must be prepared for the great work of rest.

I’ve heard people ask other believers, “How is it with your soul?” Today, I’m wondering, how is it with your soil?

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You’ll find the parable in Mark 4:1-9

Lenten Thoughts: Tattooed With Jesus

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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. Bottom line: 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.

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I do, however, want my life 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 my life is far from consistent. My heart desperately seeks to live in a way 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.

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

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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: slow down, stay steady) 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.

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Lenten Thoughts: Service

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I’ve always thought that I had a servant’s heart. I’ve gone so far as to consider getting a personalized tag for my car with the Greek word for servant. I would and will do whatever I’m asked. I look for ways to make the lives of others more comfortable and enjoyable. Today as I worked with my little lady with Alzheimer’s, I decided perhaps I needed to rethink this.

As is sometimes the case, she was not in a very good frame of mind when she emerged from her bedroom. She immediately began to fuss and grouse and order me about. And it had an instant effect on my spirit. I wanted to point out all the things I do and justify myself. Not a very good servant response.

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What I decided was: serving is easy when it’s easy to serve. As soon as it gets difficult or dirty, we find ways to back out. And if we don’t turn away, our attitude slips a little.

Here’s Paul’s take on servanthood: 1If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:1-5a, NIV)

I think that part of what I learned putting these verses together with my run in the other morning is that it’s so not about me. My feelings were hurt when I felt unappreciated. Serving others can’t depend on their expression of gratitude. Jesus told his disciples if they were working for the pat on the back of others then that would be the sum of their reward. What we need to motivate us is not the praise of people, but the well done from God.

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Jesus could teach this because he understood it. It was pretty clear that Jesus didn’t back away when things became difficult or painful. His service took him willingly to the cross. And that’s whose mindset we are to emulate.

I have a lot to learn about being a Jesus kind of servant. I think I’m going to skip the license plate—probably even the t-shirt.

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Advent: From Our Fears Release Us

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In my quiet time this morning, I was reflecting on Psalm 3:

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Fear. Fear bordering on paranoia. Bullying.
I read a news clip this week of a teen who killed herself because her peers had been bullying her. My heart ached, for her, for her family, for those peers.
What if this psalm had been breathed into her? What if God, God who could enable her to lay down in perfect peace in the presence of her enemies–and sleep–had been made real for her?
How real is he to me?
Save us, God, from our fears.
The words to an old hymn are in my head now:

Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart. (Charles Wesley)

Oh that we could come to know the Perfect Love that casts out all fear.

Nehemiah Devotions Chapter 3, Day 5

Friday Rebuild (all materials present in the rubble for the task)

Text: The Fish Gate was built by the sons of Hassenaah. (Nehemiah 3:1, NLT)

According to Warren Wiersbe’s study on Nehemiah, “Be Determined,” the word built is used six times in Nehemiah 3 and it means rebuilt. For this rebuilding no new material was needed. Instead the workers found the material in the rubble around them (Be Determined, p. 39).

How often do we put off doing the work while we wait for what we think we need: supplies, programs, people, funds?

Perhaps we could begin to see progress if we would use what is at our hand.

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When God wanted to use Moses, the reluctant servant came up with all kinds of excuses. God asked him what was in his hand. It was his staff, until he threw it on the ground, and then it became a serpent.

David defeated Goliath with the smooth stones he had in his pocket.

Jesus fed the multitude with the lunch of a child, five small rolls and two sardines.

What has he given you to use? What’s in your hand?

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Sermon Seeds: It’s All About The Fruit

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I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5

It seems so obvious. We wouldn’t argue the point if we were discussing grapes, or squash, or pumpkins. The only way to produce fruit is for the branch to be connected to the vine.

In this section of the gospel (John 15), Jesus identifies himself as the true vine–the genuine item, the real deal. He would only make that point if there were false, fake, or dead vines people were trying to attach themselves to.

The way to know who or what we’re attached to is to examine the fruit. Good fruit comes from abiding in the true vine.

So, how’s your fruit?

If we are going to produce fruit for the Kingdom, fruit that brings glory to God, then we need to be a people of the vine.

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Sermon Seeds: Finishing

(On Wednesdays my blog posts will be related to the text of the upcoming Sunday message.)

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6, NLT)

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We just finished walking together through Lent to the Resurrection. The intention of these devotional thoughts was to get us ready to see Jesus!

How’d you do?

Each time I reach the resurrection story I am moved when I try to imagine Jesus speaking Mary’s name. I listen hard to hear him whisper my name.

But that’s not the end of the story! More work needs to be done. We have our part. God is not finished with us!

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Sunday morning I will preach my first official sermon as the interim pastor of Ashland First Church of the Brethren. It is not my first time in the pulpit with these precious people. I’ve been filling in for a while.

On Sunday we embark on a different phase. We are focusing on where God wants us to go, who God wants us to be…and how we’re going to get there.

I love our verse from Philippians. For a long time I took it personally…individually. But it’s plural. Like: He began a work in y’all. And He wants to finish it.

What work has God begun in you? In your family? In your faith community–your church?

Will you join him in the work? Will you let him finish?

You hold a piece to the whole that only you can fill.

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