Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Right Connections

"Hey,I know a guy. Somebody knows somebody who might know how to help you meet the somebodies who can help..."

We've been through this circus with our kids over and over again.  Make calls, do research, eat McDonalds six nights a week in a van, to get to a better team, to get to a better team, to get in front of better coaches, to get to the better school. This craziness begins in preschool.
Athletics is just one example of the rat race of making "connections"... perhaps you know a guy who may be able to make parking tickets disappear for example?!
Calling in a little favor is hard to resist...when you have connections.
John the Baptist was a character with connections.
Not only was he the cousin of the Messiah, but he was given the privilege of baptizing Jesus.  John was an eye witness to the dove that descended on Jesus and an ear witness to the voice that came from Heaven speaking divine approval. 
If I were to live an isolated life in the desert, tanning hides for my wardrobe, enduring beestings to secure my nourishment, and spending my days introducing people to someone they'd leave me for...I think I would be expecting to call in a few favors and retire well!
But this is not the kind of relationship John had with Jesus. Whatever expectations He had of what Jesus would or should do for him are simply stated in John 3:30,
"He must increase, but I must decrease." 
I'm not sure that John pictured his decrease to the extent of being imprisoned and beheaded. John had offended Herod by disagreeing with his "life choices", now he sat behind bars, awaiting his fate and hearing stories of his cousin, The Messiah, rescuing all sorts of strangers. How could he not wonder if he'd been mistaken about Jesus after all?
John's friends came to Jesus on John's behalf:

“Are you the One we’ve been expecting, or are we still waiting?” Matthew 11:3

Can't you feel John's confusion? 
"Jesus, if you're who I thought you were, why am I sitting here? Why am I not reaping the rewards of working for you and knowing you personally?!"

Jesus sends word back to John, "Absolutely! I'm performing all kinds of miracles! The blind see and the lame walk. I even raise people from the dead! I'm spreading the good news that God is rescuing His people! But John, I'm not rescuing you from prison and I'm not rescuing you from your grotesque fate. Please, don't be offended." (paraphrase of Mt. 11:4-6)

Can't you imagine John's offense?
John's question still hangs in the air in 2017.
Jesus, are You who we thought You were or are we still waiting...for someone else to rescue us?"
I've never faced torture or deprivation as many around the world do, but I have had expectations and I have been offended.
This whole thing about "decreasing";  
decreasing my influence, my possessions, my rewards, my goals, my reputation...
well most of the time, I'd rather not.
After all, Jesus is my friend. I've been getting to know Him a long time. I do stuff for Him and I don't do stuff...for Him! I don't ask much either, not really. So, the least He could do is...

but sometimes, He doesn't. 

How could He treat His friends this way? 
I think there's a clue in Matthew 11:12. After Jesus honors John the Baptist He says this:
" From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence..."

John preached the Kingdom of Heaven at hand...
peace, justice, hope, joy
is here? 
Well, not by an immediate swift sweep of force. Instead, God's kingdom comes through individual hearts yielded to His love. Hearts that say: "Your way, not mine", one battle at a time.

"Our mission in His Kingdom is that His reign is "brought to bear where destructive powers have held sway. These powers will not give up without a fight. The fight itself and incurred suffering are not incidental but somehow the means by which Jesus' victory is applied.
One of the dangers of saying too easily 'the Messiah died for my sins' is to imagine that hereafter there will be no more dying to do, no more suffering to undergo."
-paraphrased from The Day the Revolution Began, NT Wright

Jesus did not spare John pain, He spared Himself no pain, and we ourselves will not be spared all pain...
We are at war. We feel the violence of the fight. 
But we know somebody who knows somebody...
a friend in high places,
who's called in a favor on our behalf.

"What shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all- how will he not also give us all things?
...in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." Romans 8:31-32,37

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Hidden progress

What is more fun then discovering a new favorite author?! I just started a book called "Anonymous" by Alicia Britt Chole. What could be better for writer's block then depending on far more accomplished authors to break through? Sometimes my progress in these studies is so slow and the new meaning so hidden, I am about to give up and then...a passage clicks together.
In studying Jesus' relationships with people, we've landed in between His birth and His baptism, Luke 2:41-52... So many hidden years of Jesus' early childhood! As the author points out: Jesus' birth was followed by hidden days, His circumcision by hidden months, His visit from the wise men by hidden years and His visit to Jerusalem by hidden decades. What did thirty years of living in obscurity, thirty years of waiting to step into His life mission, accomplish in Jesus?
These questions and this passage lead to a detested word: submission.
Submission- A choice to place one's own agenda under someone else's authority, someone else's needs, someone else's desires. Which, don't get me wrong, at times can be a bad thing. But for Jesus, it was all good.
Jesus' hidden years were lived in submission to His parents. In an environment of love (evidenced in His parents frantic, three-day search for Him) and His parents' own submission to God (evidenced through His birth story) Jesus grew in His ability to say: "Not my will but Thine". The Creator of time, took time.
At twelve, He was so wise He amazed everyone at the Temple yet returned for another twenty years to live with His parents (is He relevant or what?!) But it wasn't for His needs that He moved back in, it was to submit to their needs. At 30+, Jesus finally stepped out and into His ultimate mission and submitted to His Father's agenda to meet our deepest needs: to be set free from the power of sin and to be restored back into true worshippers of the true God.
Jesus' practice of obscurity, His choice to submit, turned the destiny of the world upside down and restored the ultimate agenda for all of us.
What could be more fun then discovering our new, our ultimate purpose?
What could be better for a "life-block", than depending on the One who breaks every chain?
But it takes time. Sometimes the progress lies hidden, obscure.
Be encouraged today, The Son of God Himself took 30+ years!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Little Go and Tell

Remember "Show and Tell" on the first day of school? I had one classmate who told tales of Disney World vacations every year. I was so jealous.
Somewhat less exciting to me is the Jersey Shore.
The upsides: breezes that fluff and cool sweaty heads and steamy air. We enjoy breakfasts with a view, family face to faces and digging holes in the sand, wide and deep. The tide always washes them away. I take walks and watch baby clams gobble down and down. Every day, my husband paddles out and catches rides back in...out, back, out, back - for hours.
The downsides:
Seagulls hungrily snatch sandwiches and cheese curls from your clasp and pretty beach snacks, gone in a blink. This particular year, our small entourage attended the worst play possibly ever written, escaped before it ended and then tried to forget!
Another week on the Jersey Coast has ended.
Vacations have highs and lows; they come and go. Things come and go, come and go. People come and go. That's life.

Luke 2: 25-35 Simeon was an old man who knew that before it was time for him to go, He would see the Christ come.  On the day Jesus was dedicated by Mary and Joseph, there sat Simeon, waiting and longing, tired and hopeful. He recognized Jesus as "The Consolation of Israel" who would console him and his people for all that they had lost and suffered...Jesus was the greatest high in Simeon's life.
"Now I can go in peace" he said. (v.29)
"Now I see what I have believed without seeing...trusted without experience;
You God are a God who is making everything right after all for all.
This Jesus marks the going of what has been and coming of what was meant to be."
Simeon had to shout about it!
There was a woman at the temple who also noticed Jesus and saw what Simeon saw. She had been there night and day since the loss of her husband...surely over 50 years of devotion. Anna, a prophetess (spokeswoman for God) joined  Simeon in the affirmation of Jesus as Israel's redeemer, making sure the people who were waiting for Him would know that He had come to set them free.
Her people had let go of all God offered them as His children but the day they laid their eyes on Jesus was the day God was giving it all back...to Israel and to ALL His children.
Anna had to talk about it!
In Jesus, God accomplishes what no one can do for themselves,
forgiveness and restoration.
He not only saves us from our corruption, He makes it possible for us to live out the mission we were made for:
To know Him and make Him known.

Isaiah 52:9-10 
Break forth together into singing, (shouting, talking, blogging) 
    you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people;
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God.

all of the coming and going, losing and gaining, highs and lows in life cause us to view God skeptically,
the illusive rhyme and reason for non-sensical pain, the outrage of heartbreaking injustice...why would we want to know such a God? And IF we could know such a God, why would we want to compel others to know Him?
I believe God, well aware of His reputation,  sent Jesus to shine a light on who He really is.
The Old Testament itself, the whole history of Israel and the church provides more than enough excuse for us to say :"No thank you. You say "come" Lord...but I think I'd better be going!"
 Jesus, the perfect representation of who God is, the perfect reflection of this baffling God's heart, speaks comfort:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Trust in God- trust also in me." John 14:1

With all this coming and going, losing and gaining in life
I am so thankful for Jesus, our Comforter, our Redeemer.
That's why I have to blog about it!

"With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation;
    it’s now out in the open for everyone to see:
A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations,
    and of glory for your people Israel." Luke 2:30-32 The MSG

If we long to be comforted in our losses, if we hope for better understanding of what we're made for-
Like Simeon and Anna we must come, "Taste and see that He IS good" Ps. 34:8

then- "Go and tell this great news". Mark 16:15

Monday, July 10, 2017

An Other Birth

We are anticipating a birth in our family. Crazy! Crazy the emotions that go with such an announcement. This is not just another birth...this is an "other"- adding, expanding our family!
Matthew and Luke recount for us the most conspicuous birth of all time.
Anticipated for hundreds of years
Imagined by Israel
Celebrated by billions
Feared by the powerful
Human arrival of the Creator of humanity...
So much more than just another birth.
God secured relationship with us through giving Himself in the man, Jesus.
What kind of relationship does He want with us?
To the ones waiting, listening, anticipating like Mary and Joseph, He promises: "The Lord is with you." Luke 1:28
and He comforts: "Do not be afraid..." Matt. 1:20

“No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

To the ones who imagine freedom from an iron caste like the shepherds, He gives hope:
"I bring you good news of great joy which will be for ALL people!" Luke 2:10 
Ephesians 2:14-16 "He has broken down…the dividing wall of hostility…making peace…through the cross” 

To the ones who seek and celebrate understanding like the wisemen, He leads them into understanding. Matt. 2:1-12

“We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true." 1 John 5:20

To the ones who fear the loss of power and influence like Herod, He is greater. "...this was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets..." Matt. 2:23
 Isaiah 14:27 "For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him?"
James 4:6 "But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

To all humanity, Jesus came: 
John 3:17 "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved (rescued and restored) through him."

Monday, July 3, 2017

How's Your Hearing?

I have disjointed thoughts from the week's studies...it often feels like God is not fulfilling His end of the deal. 
He is being too quiet!
Anticipation jump starts the writing process on Monday mornings. Every week my anxieties become over-ruled by the fact that I think I think God IS saying something;
but I have to start punching these keys to hear it. Punching keys helps me ponder.

We are in the Gospels; 
attempting to chronicle Jesus' relationships.
We are beginning with His family, because family is where relating begins.
Jesus' extended family were the first to hear the long anticipated message that God was indeed ready to hold up His end of the deal.
And what was His end? We need to go all the way back to Genesis 12:1-3, when God broke another period of felt silence and promised Abram (Abraham) to give him a really, really big family; big enough to be its own nation in fact with its own land. And this family of Abraham's would actually be so special in the world that EVERY family would be "blessed" by them.
God's end of the deal was honoring this promise. 
Abraham's family though, had repeated hearing problems.
They were human after all. How many of us walk away from times of relating with our loved one's with several different versions of one interaction?
The Old Testament is full of Israel's spin on what God said and who He was. 
Abraham himself had lived in a world of idol worship and godless practices. No wonder God had to send him up on top of Mt. Moriah to sacrifice Isaac. 
That's the kind of "god" Abraham knew...gods demanded blood to make them happy. 
But instead, the God of the promise said, (my version) "I can see that you fear me...but I am not like other Gods. I am not just a god who simply demands to be appeased. I want to love you and I will provide the sacrifice myself, so that you can feel my love; 
love me because I love you Abraham 
not just because you're scared witless."
Abraham made so many mistakes. His listening skills were tainted by his history and his humanity. 
His family continued in this cycle of spiritual deafness, misdirected worship, severe consequences, cries for help, and divine intervention for a very long time before the silence between the Testaments. 
But thousands of years later,  some family members were still waiting to hear God's voice in faith that the promise would be kept.
One of them was Mary.
The Gospels talk about her "pondering" over and over again.
She had developed her listening skills and given her heart completely to God.
Luke tells us that God sent Gabriel to speak on His behalf. Mary heard clearly that God was indeed going to forgive Israel, fix their relationship with Him and make them a gift of His mercy to the world... in a son, Jesus. 
The devastation of sin on the whole human family was about to be reversed so that the family relationship could be restored and reset.
What hope!
She could not contain her excitement!
"My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." Luke 1:46-47
Thousands of years later God still speaks. Maybe not through an angelic visit, but 
He still let's us feel the consequences of sin to say: 
"Everything and everyone else will always come         up short, but Me!" 
He still presents us with moments of profound beauty to say: "You were made for more...it's ME!"
He still calls to us through the Scriptures: "I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly" .(John 10:10)
He still promises: "This is MY body broken for you, this is MY blood, shed for you..."

Are you listening?

Monday, June 26, 2017


Family histories are powerful. 
If we don't know them, we wonder about them.
They may bring inspiration and pride or shame and isolation, but in any case...
family histories, full of the  mundane and even cataclysmic, affect us.
Between the Old and New Testament 400 years of Jewish family history grind past. I use the word "grind" quite literally. The Nation of Israel spent these 400 years as a center for conflict between North and South, East and West...the most "fought over" piece of land in the history of the world. Over and over again Israel fought and was fought over in revolts, alliances and power plays. By the time the scene opens on the New Testament, Israel is a tired nation desperately waiting for God to step back onto the stage and rescue them, as their family history promised.
400 years of enduring the silence of their Heavenly Patriarch. 400 years of persecution, exiled from the One who promised that He would keep His promises to forgive them and make His presence with them known again.
400 years of waiting and watching, divided by a mixture of pride and shame, hope and despair.
Then one day a man named Zachariah entered the temple.
An Angel appeared to him:
Luke 1:13-15 ...“Don’t fear, Zachariah. Your prayer has been heard. Elizabeth, your wife, will bear a son by you. You are to name him John. You’re going to leap like a gazelle for joy, and not only you—many will delight in his birth. He’ll achieve great stature with God.
15b-17 "...He’ll be filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment he leaves his mother’s womb. He will turn many sons and daughters of Israel back to their God. He will herald God’s arrival in the style and strength of Elijah, soften the hearts of parents to children, and kindle devout understanding among hardened skeptics—he’ll get the people ready for God.”
What were these prayers, answered with a son? I don't personally think Zachariah was centered on prayer for a son...
His duty as priest was to intercede on behalf of his "family" Israel; to make offering for forgiveness and call out for God's presence with His people. After 400 years, Zachariah represented God's people, in a desperate place.
The time had come for God to answer this prayer and in preparation, God sent Zachariah and Elizabeth and all the people- a messenger: John the Baptizer. 
John spent his short life announcing that God does keep His promises. He does hear our cries. He does forgive. He knows that our only hope for life and peace is with His presence.
By the time Zachariah left the temple to return to mundane life, he felt a cataclysmic shift in his family history.
How much I would like to know the words he had lifted to God...those words of intercession and desperate dependence...
"Father God, whatever he prayed we want to echo Zachariah's prayers and his heart. We are desperate for You. We have no hope but You. No matter the powers that come and go, no matter the small victories or short-lived reprieves...
Only Your forgiveness and presence can give us life and peace.
Come Lord Jesus."

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Feeling Lucky (An Unpoetic Ode to Matriarchs)

My great-grandmother, Ina Davis was born in 1899; and I was lucky enough to know her. She cooked a mean fried chicken, the saltiest green beans you ever tasted and the best chocolate cream pie I've had to date. Granny sewed slipcovers and drapes in her barn on an old pedaled sewing machine, hung chickens from a clothesline before they met the frying pan and liked to beep her horn in tunnels just to hear the echo. She also hated when I whistled.
I loved her.
She was my "Granny" and she was a character from the generation of preaching "hellfire and brimstone". For better and sometimes worse...you knew what Granny thought and you heard Granny sing! But she had faith...and it was for me a faith to build on.
My grandmother, Dorthea Davis was born in 1921 and I was lucky enough to have her until I had three teenagers of my own. I used to salivate in anticipation of her yellow cake with chocolate icing and her huge yellow bowl of potato salad. Nanny worked in the dietary department of Brandywine Hospital in her crisp white uniform for YEARS! And Nanny was strong. She regularly arm wrestled her sons-in-law and her grandsons. Then twitched her nose in delight if she could still take them down. She also let me call her ridiculous names.
I loved her.
She was my "Nan" and God doesn't make them sweeter. For better and sometimes worse...Nanny worried or Nanny sang! But she had faith...and it was faith for me to build on.
My mother, Millie (Davis) Morris, was born in 1942 (sorry Mom); and I am lucky enough to have her still! I used to love to come in from playing in the snow to her milky and rivelly potato soup and no holiday is right without her perfect apple pie. Mom has worked hard her whole life..."secretarying", mothering, caring, cleaning, buying, selling, home-making and giving in delight to the delighted. Mom makes even the mundane feel special. She also forgives my scattered mind.
I love her.
She is my "Mumsy" and she continues to be one of my best gifts in this life. For better and rarely worse, mom fusses over her family...( I won't comment on her singing since she reads my blogs!) Mom's life is full of evidences of faith for me to keep building on.
My patriarchal matriarchs are absent from my life experience but I have been told of their faith and seen it in my great aunt, Helen Riggs.  I was lucky enough to know her in my formative years. Before you crossed her threshold, you were handed carrot juice, a vitamin and whole-wheat carob chip cookies; all long before the "healthfood" industry showed its face in Chester County, PA. Helen was a spitfire who jogged in her basement until she had to be 80 years old. She used to play hymns on her old 45's and greet you with so much enthusiasm you felt like a celebrity. She worked at getting her family "saved"...and it worked for me! For better or worse Aunt Helen told you about Jesus...and though she is my blood on my father's side, her singing could make your ears curl in. But boy, did Aunt Helen have faith...faith to build on.
Why do I write of my matriarchal lineage? Because I feel lucky!
And because I'm reflecting on the women in Christ's lineage...
women with strengths and weaknesses. Women whose faith God chose to build on. And though we cannot comment on their vocal talents we can read the songs of their lives and build on their faith.

They are, by faith, the matriarchs of us all.
Read about them:
Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, Mary...
I promise you their stories will make you feel lucky.