Friday, February 28, 2014

And He took them up in His arms

 Indeed, I assure you that the man who does not accept the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms and laid his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:15-16

Man oh man, sometimes it is easy to overthink stuff. And fret. And try to be grown-up. Like those disciples shooing away all of the too much in their life. And I really think God just wants me to leap out and trust Him. And He will catch me.

And for some reason, that was one of my dad’s favorite tricks. Placing me up on high places…whether it be the kitchen counter or the tree in the backyard or relative cliffs, and then clapping his hands together he would say, “Jump, Christy, jump. I will catch you.” And he always did.  And the kitchen counter seemed like the biggest mountain in the world. But it was nothing to him.

I guess God wanted to paint that image in my head with non-fading colors. And I was telling a few stories of God’s catching to the librarian mom yesterday afternoon while my students researched production lines of their favorite products, taking into consideration economic, environmental and societal ramifications. And, oh yes. He has been faithful. And has caught me time and time again. He is strong, willing and able.

So why was I such a crabby pants?

When the Facebook plea came from a very respected but old friend, like old in that I haven’t really talked to her for like fifteen years since she was in my seventh grade English class, looking for a bed it Tucson for someone she didn’t know who left a message on the answering machine, the disciple in me tried to shoo her away.

I have a sore throat and the sniffles. I have 12 people coming for dinner. She has two dogs that do not like men which is why she can’t stay in a homeless shelter, and I have two cats and three men. And five hundred million papers to read.

But I could not still that quiet voice.

And I told Dustin that if this turned out to be from Him, I would sure know what His voice sounded like in the future because this voice was very steady and very clear.

And I called the lady yesterday afternoon between two afterschool meetings while I was waiting for Shaun to finish tutoring. And she called me right back and said that the guy she was staying with just came home drunk and angry and she was scared and packing her car. And I gave her directions to our house and then went to a meeting at the City Council Ward Office about the alley right-of-way behind our house.

And somehow it was eleven before she got here and I was, well, pretty tired. But after she opened her car door and fussed with all of the dog leashes she turned around and stared at me, and gasped, “Christy Coverdale.”

And yes, she had been in my church youth group. And had hiked the Grand Canyon with my sister. And gone to Baptist Student Union at Flagstaff with Darrow Miller, one of my all-time heroes.

And she was kind of nervous and embarrassed and talked too fast about running track in high school and this great job she had once at FedEx and well, then she made a mistake and fell off the cliff.

And really all of us, each one of us, is just one step away from a cliff.

And we each have a backstory.

Known to Him. And apparently He really wanted to remind me of this truth, that He knows the hairs on my head. And her head. In chapel Wednesday, Weston shared the verse For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty Savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

You. Me. Every single one.

And it is not about not having a job. And being in the process of applying for disability. And missing all of your front teeth. But you have a job interview today. He sees His little child, precious and cherished.

And two years ago she went through the court system to change her name to “Beloved.”

Because she is.

And He took a child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said unto them, “Whosoever shall receive one of such children in My name, receiveth Me; and whosoever shall receive Me, receiveth not Me, but Him that sent Me.”

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sending rain on the just and on the unjust

February 25-27, 2014

“And I tell you too, that the man who disturbs the faith of one of the humblest of those who believe in me would be better off if he were thrown into the sea with a great millstone hung round his neck!” Mark 9:42

This little section, this three-day walk home to Capernaum was pretty rough on the disciples and their preconceptions. Jesus was fleshing out what it means to lose your life and follow Him. “Fleshing out” as in what does this theory look like when you live and breathe it. Jesus is casting out a lot bigger net than the disciples felt comfortable with.

If any man wants to be first, he must be last and servant of all. All.

And I had always read this section as a great big to do list: work work work, sacrifice sacrifice sacrifice, chop chop chop.

And there is chopping. But not how I understood it. It is about completely releasing the self part about me. Release release release. It is all about the other. It is most certainly not about how pure and holy and whitewashed on the outside I can become. It is about serving. Sacrificing my safe, preconceived ideas about who is with me and who is not.

Chopping off those hands and plucking out those eyeballs.

For the man who is not against us is on our side. In fact, I assure you that the man who gives you a mere drink of water in my name, because you are followers of mine, will most certainly be rewarded.

Indeed, if it is your own hand that spoils your faith, you must cut it off.

 John the beloved said, “Master, we saw somebody driving out evil spirits in your name, and we stopped him, for he is not one who follows us.”

But Jesus replied, “You must not stop him.”

Fleshing out this new definition of greatness, not like that old definition of the Pharisees who does the best, most carefully parsed version of the law, is about humility and service to preserve the peace, rather than dividing it through a desire to be great. And right.

Salt is a very good thing; but if it should lose its saltiness, what can you do to restore its flavour? You must have salt in yourselves, and live at peace with each other.

And the other time that Jesus talks about salt losing its flavor and being good for nothing and being cast underfoot, the part that I memorized when I memorized all of Matthew in the King James Version in middle school, isn’t about a big to do list of not coveting, not lying, not committing adultery. That is not a list that saves.

Jesus makes it very clear that this old list of righteousness is not going to cut it. Not even a tiny bit as he clarifies our understanding of murder and adultery, lest there be any doubt that we should be judging on outward appearance. I say unto you that unless your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Rather this saltiness stuff, this light on the hill stuff is about the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus redefines what a disciple looks like: Poor in spirit, merciful, peacemakers, persecuted. It’s a whole different list:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’
But I say unto you that ye resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if any man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him two.
Give to him that asketh thee; and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not thou away.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy.’
But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you,
that ye may be the children of your Father who is in Heaven. For He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?
And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so?
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father who is in Heaven is perfect.
So this saltiness thing is a theme, how Jesus begins and ends his teaching the disciples as he heads into Jerusalem to destroy the power of sin once and for all. He is going to fulfill the Law and Prophets, because no matter how hard I work, work, work, sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice, chop, chop, chop, I cannot.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

And this new to do list begins with a promise of blessing and happiness. Rather than death.
Turn not thou away.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Sometimes the slope is a little slippery

Then came a cloud which overshadowed them and a voice spoke out of the cloud, “This is my dearly-loved Son. Listen to Him!” Mark 9:7

We were not following a cleverly written-up story when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ—we actually saw His majesty with our own eyes. He received honour and glory from God the Father Himself when that voice said to Him, out of the sublime glory of Heaven, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’. We actually heard that voice speaking from Heaven while we were with Him on the sacred mountain. The word of prophecy was fulfilled in our hearing! You should give that word your closest attention, for it shines like a lamp amidst all the dirt and darkness of the world, until the day dawns, and the morning star rises in your hearts. 2 Peter 1:16-19

 So Peter wrote his second letter just before he died. And he knew he was about to die. And somehow, out of all of the things that he lived and he saw from his time walking the dirt and darkness of the world with Jesus, this sleep-confused moment was what he remembered when life was hard and full of questions. 

And the word of prophecy that was fulfilled in his hearing? Six days earlier, Jesus declared to his followers: “Believe me, there are some of you standing here who will know nothing of death until you have seen the kingdom of God coming in its power!”

And yet this kingdom of power was not always so simple. There are lots of thoughts on the mountaintop experiences as contrasted to the murky valley moments that make up lots of everyday life. Facing our everyday demons. 

And I spent a lot of yesterday with folks who I know and love and respect. But sometimes the conversations started sounding a lot like the Pharisee Thank-God-I-am-not-like-other-people, robbers, evildoers, adulterers.  And I didn’t have much to add to the conversation because really all I could hear was the “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” And while he was being whipped and slashed and spit upon he had one last request of His Father, He Who Created Heaven and Earth did not ask for His rights, but rather He asked His Father to forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.

And if he could die for people while they were yet sinners, perhaps I can serve them a piece of cake. Who am I to judge a child of God?

He who knew no sin, became sin for our sake.

So maybe we shouldn’t be so much saying, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Maybe Augustine got it wrong.

And as I head down the mountain, the mountain filled with a light so bright, so light, dazzling white—whiter than any earthly bleaching could make them, let me listen to the dearly-loved Son. And remember that the Kingdom of God has arrived in power. In power for restoration and renewal. And to listen to the dearly-beloved Son.

And as I head into trouble, for in this world there will indeed be trouble, let me not be afraid. For He has overcome the world. He has destroyed sin. Only believe.

 “If you can do anything!” retorted Jesus. “Everything is possible to the man who believes.”

 “I do believe,” the boy’s father burst out. “Help me to believe more!”

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Old Eustace couldn't scrape off his dragon skin by himself

But Jesus turned and faced his disciples and rebuked Peter. “Out of my way, Satan!” he said. “Peter, you are not looking at things from God’s point of view, but from man’s!” Mark 8:33

Man’s point of view is safe and secure with him in control. Trying to avoid Jerusalem at all costs. It was not the heathen idol-worshipping political rulers who battled with Jesus at every shoreline, rather he was utterly repudiated by the elders and chief priests and scribes. They were the unfaithful and sinful generation. Man’s point of view involves making little clubs of Who is out and Who is in, and checking membership cards at the door.  God’s way is to Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that His house may be filled.

This is the good news, the gospel. The man who tries to save his life will lose it; it is the man who loses his life for my sake and the Gospel’s who will save it.

God’s point of view is giving up all rights to self.

Of course there is Lewis (maybe I will just curl up in the hammock and the afternoon sun today instead of writing lesson plans on Production and hacer idioms and reread Mere Christianity yet once again) “Give me all of you. I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want you, all of you. I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to kill it. No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them all over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self---in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.” 

If anyone wants to follow in My footsteps, he must give up all right to himself, take up his cross and follow Me.

The cross leads to death.

And life, life abundantly. Good things from the Heavenly Father for His children, His will, His heart, Himself.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

And a great big hawk was soaring overhead

So Jesus told the crowd to settle themselves on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves into his hands, and with a prayer of thanksgiving broke them, and gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people; and this they did. They had a few small fish as well, and after blessing them, Jesus told the disciples to give these also to the people. They ate and they were satisfied. Mark 8:6-9

Those disciples pretty much figured that they had Jesus stumped. “Where could anyone find the food to feed this crowd here in this deserted spot?”

And sometimes I feel like those disciples as I bring my requests to him. This morning I was praying for a family member who is battling cancer and if her blood count rises enough, they will begin another eight-week round of horrific chemo and then look around for a bone marrow donor. And somehow the specialist is optimistic, but it’s sort of hard to not look at Him and ask, “What are you going to do about this, huh?”

But Jesus told the hungry watchers and waiters to settle themselves on the ground. And then He gave thanks. 

And I am part of this listening prayer group learning how to listen for God’s voice, and I was supposed to meditate for twenty minutes this morning in preparation for us gathering to pray for God at work in our city, and I kind of cheated because instead of quietly sitting here with my hands held open, I walked “por el parque,” not to be confused with “para el parque” like I tried to explain to my Spanish II students this week. And I was supposed to be listening for a word from Him. 

And I did. Over and over.

For what we are about to receive, we give You thanks.

And the thing about wandering around a park with forty-two years of memories is that I can’t look anywhere and not think of His hand at work. Creosote plants over a hundred years old. Drooping staghorn cactus. The hill that I used to stand on and watch Nicole win cross-country meets. The very spot where the little girls and I used to stand and throw old dried bread ends to the ducks had a stark white crane standing there, motionless, watching. The warm swimming pool where I used to take my dad to swim. The theatre for Shakespeare under the stars. Shakespeare never ceases to remind me that there is something special and holy about life. The rose garden where Sergio and Janelle were married. Soccer fields where I have watched countless games under the bright blue sky under the ever-so-tall palm trees. The little prayer loop that I walked year after year though the neighborhood. I wonder whatever happened to that teen mom that I prayed for every day as I walked past Janice Joplin’s brother’s house with the green wall.

For what we are about to receive, we give You thanks.

And after they gathered up seven baskets of pieces leftover from feeding four thousand people to satisfaction, Jesus boarded the boat at once with his disciples and went on to the district of Dalmanutha. Now the Pharisees came out and began an argument with him, wanting a sign from Heaven.

And Jesus sighed once again. Deeply. But I pretty much don’t think it was the sigh of merciful identity with the brokenhearted from yesterday, but rather a sigh of weary disgust against hardhearted blindness.

For what we are about to receive, we give You thanks.

And so I tell you, ask and it will be given you, search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. The one who asks will always receive; the one who is searching will always find, and the door is opened to the man who knocks.

Some of you are fathers, and if your son asks you for some fish, would you give him a snake instead, or if he asks you for an egg, would you make him a present of a scorpion? So, if you, for all your evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more likely is it that your Heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!

For what we are about to receive, we give You thanks.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Even the dogs under the table eat what the children leave

Jesus replied, “You hypocrites, Isaiah described you beautifully when he wrote—‘This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’. You are so busy holding on to the traditions of men that you let go the commandment of God!” Mark 7:6-8

“Sincerely held religious beliefs” are breaking my heart this morning.

Jesus then spelled out in detail evil things that come from man’s hearts and minds. And yes, lust is found in there, and adultery, along with greed, slander, arrogance and folly, lest any of us should boast.

And after Jesus grieved over their dullness of heart, He showed the religious leaders what the commandment of God actually looked like, the love your God and love you neighbor bit: He got up and cast the demon out of the labeled unclean gentile woman’s daughter.

And then he crossed over to Decapolis. And the people implored Him to put His hand on a deaf and dumb man.  And Jesus sighed. Matthew Henry’s commentary is interesting: He sighed; not as if He found any difficulty in working this miracle, or obtaining power to do it from His Father; but thus He expressed His pity for the miseries of human life, and His sympathy with the afflicted in their afflictions, as one that was Himself touched with the feeling of their infirmities.

Then, looking up to Heaven, He gave a deep sigh and said to him in Aramaic, “Open!”

And Henry continues: The great command of the gospel, and grace of Christ to poor sinners, is Ephphatha–Be opened. Grotius applies it thus, that the internal impediments of the mind are removed by the Spirit of Christ, as those bodily impediments were by the word of His power.

And every day I wonder if the internet world of information makes me more tender to the children of God and more aware of His great love, or if it, well, makes me sad in a take-my-eyes-off-of-Him sort of way. But, yesterday, a bunch of mugshots was going around and folks were saying imaginable things that made me sad in a take-my-eyes-off-of-Him sort of way. But as I looked in those walleyed shots of misery, I was very aware of a whisper, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

May I look up to Heaven today, seeking proper perspective. And then sigh as He sighed.