Beth Armstrong

Christian wife, mom, & author. Doing life with my eyes fixed on Jesus. I walk, I stumble, I fall. But God is big. And this is what I write about… Thanks for stopping by!

Archive for the tag “Jesus”

THE COMMONPLACE OF COMMUNION

Grab the bread and dunk it in the juice as quickly as possible. There’s a line, ya know? And as the Kansas City Royals say, “Keep the line moving!”

This is what Communion looks like and feels like at my church. We form lines and head to the front of the Sanctuary or Ministry Center. The organist or worship team plays some Communion-related song as we “worshipfully” approach the serving Elders or Deacons at the front. It seems to be a relatively slow and reflective pace—some deep in thought or even prayerful as they make their way to receive the elements.

Or is it?

As soon as we saintly souls get to server #1 who has the plate of bread and says (as a holy reminder), “This is the body of Christ broken for you,” we’ve already moved to server #2 who has the juice and says (as a holy reminder), “This is the blood of Christ shed for you.” As a matter of fact, before server #1 is even through speaking, some have already dunked the bread into the juice and moved on.

And poor server #2 who holds the juice! They’re just holding a mess right there.

Here’s my observation: It’s a race. It’s a fast food drive through. It’s some sort of “Divine Dash.”

Somewhere along the way, we’ve confused scoring points for the Royals with taking holy Communion as quickly as you can. As I said, “Keep the line moving!”

I am an Elder who occasionally serves Communion at our church. I’ve witnessed this Divine Dash for years. There are some who grab the bread before I even get the chance to say anything. Of course, there are (very) few who actually wait, take a piece of bread, listen, and move on to the juice server, then wait, listen, and dunk the bread into the juice.

And the dunking of the bread is another thing. Trust me I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen big hunks of bread accidentally dropped into the chalice of juice, then grabbed right back out with germy hands. I’ve seen hunks of bread left in the chalice as nice little floaters to greet the next person in line. I’ve seen dunks so big and sloppy I feel like we need one of those “Caution—Wet Floor” signs to place in front of the juice server.

What is happening here? Seriously, I’d like to know!

Do you know what the word “commune” means? According to the Oxford dictionary, to commune means to “share one’s intimate thoughts or feelings with (someone), especially on a spiritual level.” It means to “feel in close spiritual contact with.”

In the Divine Dash to grab and dunk, are we “communing” at all with God? Are we having any “close spiritual contact” with Jesus—the One we are doing this in remembrance of?

Come on, church! Is this any way to approach Communion? Is this any way to approach Holy Communion?

Where’s the reverence? Where’s the reflection? Where’s the repentance?

Am I coming down on my church? Yes! Am I shaking my holy finger in their face? No! Because I’ve been equally as guilty as the rest.

But maybe my church isn’t that different than yours. Maybe your church has its own “Divine Dash” or seemingly apathetic approach to something set aside as a holy sacrament.

I would contend that perhaps Communion has become commonplace.

A lady in her 90’s recently shared a story with me. She and her husband used to lead the youth group at her church some 70 years ago. On a youth mission trip—in which they planned to offer Communion—something happened to the bread and the juice. The bread was moldy and the juice was spoiled because it got left in the hot car for days. So, they scrambled for a solution. Instead of serving bread and juice for Holy Communion, they served potato chips and Pepsi. (Yes, you read that right!) I laughed out loud when she told me that. And then she said, when all were served, they threw out the rest of the potato chips and Pepsi because they were used as holy elements. They were set aside and designated as a holy remembrance of Jesus’ body broken for them, and His blood shed for them. And because of that, they could not (in good conscience), have used the chips and soda pop as common food. She shared with me that they all had to move past the simple in order to arrive at the sacred. They had to step over the droll in order to embrace the Divine. She said it was one of the most meaningful and memorable Communions they had ever partaken of.

Friends, no matter how you receive Communion, remember it’s not a common occasion. It’s a holy experience. Pause…slow down…reflect. If the elements are passed down your row of chairs or pew, hold the elements before you gobble them up and slam them back. If you go forward to be served the elements, let the server actually serve you. Let the words of their mouths soak in. Infuse the words of institution. Refuse the temptation to allow Communion to become commonplace. It’s not a Divine Dash. It’s a moment. A moment to commune with our Heavenly Father. A moment to share and connect with the God of the Universe. A moment to reflect on His lavish love by way of sacrificing His Son Jesus.

A moment created for you…not about you.

Slow down…reflect…repent…embrace the Divine…welcome the privilege to commune. Move past the simple, and arrive at the sacred.

 

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THE STARE DOWN

The stare down between us started at 9:15 Wednesday morning.

I was outside visiting with a gentleman who had his scooter parked alongside the handrail of the wide sidewalk from the front door to the parking lot. It’s about 30 feet from the door to the edge of the sidewalk where our company van picks up folks to transport them to various places.

In the middle of our conversation, I looked up and there he was, hunched over, unable to stand erect, using a cane instead of his normal walker, struggling to take his steps toward the van. Scruffy beard (which I’ve complimented by the way), bald head, glasses half way down his nose. Worn and weathered stern looking face. Headed my direction.

I heard him say something to me in his gruff voice…something that I couldn’t quite make out. So I asked him if he needed any help…if there was anything I could do for him.

He immediately bit my head off. I didn’t understand all of his rant, but what I could decipher was a few expletives shot right at me, stating his adamant independence and his desire for me to leave him the hell alone.

That’s when it happened. The stare down between him and me. I didn’t say a word and neither did he as he made his way right toward me. He stared at me with his devil face and I stared right back with my bitch eyes. As he passed by me we were only a few feet away from each other, deadlocked on each other’s faces. Eye to eye. I didn’t crack and neither did he.

Stare DownHe turned to get in the van as we gave each other one last, long, look. Then I turned and walked inside. Not a word was vocalized after his outburst. Well…perhaps many words were spoken, just not verbally. This is the same gentleman (if I can even call him that) I blogged about on June 28th. He’s crusty and very rough around the edges.

At the moment of his blasting, I wasn’t at all taken aback. I’ve gotten used to it from him. I wasn’t necessarily left speechless, because again, I’ve been on the receiving end of his chastising before. But at the same time I didn’t know what to say back. I’d had it. It hit a nerve this time. So I stared him down and quite likely in my mind spewed words so sharp it would have cut the scruff right off his beard.

I fully believe everything I shared in my previous blog about dealing with difficult people. I believe we are supposed to bless those who curse us and love our enemies. I believe we shouldn’t repay evil with evil or insult with insult. With regard to “Mr. Crusty Man” I’ve literally put those words into practice.

But after I got home, something (or perhaps someONE—who’s far greater than me) reminded me of the passage in Scripture where Jesus tells His disciples “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet” (Matthew 10:14).

Could it be that this is what God is calling me to do with him? I wrestle with the thought. On one hand, I feel that I should love unconditionally. That I should continue to offer grace and mercy to a guy who certainly doesn’t deserve it, because isn’t that a picture of what God does for us daily?

On the other hand, there are Jesus’ words to His disciples to “shake the dust off their feet” which is a symbolic indication that they had done all they could do and no longer carried the responsibility of it. They were free to walk away with a clear conscience.

Is this God’s way of telling me to move on? To “shake the dust off my feet” with regard to this guy who I’ve poured into, prayed for, tried to encourage, helped in every way I can, planted seeds, and made an effort to take our conversations Godward when I could?

I’m stuck in the middle of these two teachings of Jesus. Both right. Both true. Both I believe firmly in.

I haven’t seen him since the stare down occurred. When I encounter him next, will there be the sweet fragrance of Jesus in the air…or just a cloud of dust?

DISHING ON DIFFICULT PEOPLE

I was being kind and compassionate and was prepared to go out of my way to be helpful. Then he bit my head off. I immediately thought, “Thanks for nothin’ there, bud!” I always go the extra mile in the respect, caring, and kindhearted department with this guy. And what I get in return is short, impatient, disrespectful responses. He grunts, he groans, or he growls at me nearly every time. He’s crusty. He’s rough around the edges to say the least. He once told me that when he dies he’s “going straight to hell because he’s one mean son of a bitch.” (Yep, that’s a direct quote from him.) Ever since he made that declaration, he’s been on my heart. For whatever reason, this week when I reached out to help out with my normal positive, considerate approach, and when he bit my head off, I thought to myself, “I’m done! I’m over you, dude! Game over!”

Later, another gentleman (not sure he really deserves that title if I’m being honest) told me he didn’t like me one bit at all. (What I really wanted to say was, “Yeah, the feeling is mutual!”) He let me know I was terrible at my job and that I needed to get with the program. He then stated that he didn’t like being around me and told me to go away. Apparently not long after we met I ticked him off. He doesn’t look at me, speak to me, or acknowledge me in any way. I say hello to him every time I see him. I ask him how his day is going. And he pretends that I don’t exist. Until this week. When I got an earful. And again, I thought to myself, “I’m done! I’m over you, dude! Game over!”

head buttWhen I deal with difficult people, my motto (and self-talk reminder) of the last several years has been, “Just kill ‘em with kindness.” But after this week, my new motto just might leave off the words “with kindness.”

“Bless those who curse you,” He said. I’d like to think Jesus was plum crazy or maybe on something when He challenged His listeners in this way. But that wasn’t the case at all. He was always taking what was right-side-up and turning it upside down. Or perhaps better to the point, He was always taking what was upside down, and turning it right-side-up. Paul reiterates Jesus’ words by adding, “Bless and do not curse.” Then Peter adds his two cents by saying, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing…”

I think Jesus initiated these words because He knew that life was a grander story than just mere moments of insults and ingrates. He knew that He was part of a bigger story than the one written in the heat of the moment of disgust or displeasure with an individual. Not only was His story bigger, but so was that of the insulter, the attacker, the persecutor, the difficult person. And if He could weave kindness, compassion, grace, and mercy into their story, maybe it would awaken them to the bigger story they were a part of but just didn’t know it.

“Love your enemies,” He said. Why would I want to love them when they don’t return the sentiment? Loving them is an investment that doesn’t produce any kind of return, other than frustration on the part of the one giving the love. But this is what we’re challenged to do. To participate in God’s story–one in which He is speaking and acting. A story of unconditional love. And grace. And mercy.

“Love, do good, help, and lend to those difficult people in your life,” He said. Those difficult people in our lives aren’t problems to fix. They’re people. Made in the image of God. People to love. People to serve.

Jesus also added these words, “…expecting nothing in return.” That’s where it gets real. That’s where it gets raw. I want progress in return. I want a glimpse of something positive in return. I want my effort to mean something, to make an impact, to influence…and see evidence of it.

God says to all of us, “It’s not about the return. It’s about the story. I am writing your story just as I am writing theirs.”

So…we gear up, we armor up, we fill up and prepare ourselves to spill out love and blessings to those who curse us, our enemies, the ungrateful, the selfish, the hateful, and the mean-spirited. And we know after all the spillage, our bucket will indeed be empty. (Jesus probably experienced this on a regular basis.) But we go straight back to the Source to refuel. The Author of our story. The One who invites us to participate in it as best we can. By loving…doing good…and blessing.

 

WHY JESUS DIDN’T HALF-ASS

“A job isn’t worth doing unless it’s done right the first time.” It was something like this that my grandmother embedded into us when we spent the summers with her. We “earned our keep,” so to speak. We had a list of chores to do each day. We memorized Bible verses at meal times, we were expected to treat each other with kindness and respect, and she set the bar high. We had to make our beds each morning…perfectly. We had to do the dishes…completely and thoroughly. We had to clean out the toy closets and ball closets…spotlessly. We had to sweep the garage…immaculately. She wasn’t being mean, or harsh, or a taskmaster. She just expected us to pitch in. She wanted us to learn the value of hard work. She wanted us to learn to do a job right…the first time. It’s a waste of time to do a job half-assed, then do it repeatedly until it’s done right, done well, and with care and excellence.

This is what my grandmother taught me. I didn’t care much for those lessons at the time. Matter of fact, I kinda thought it was a crock. Since when do kids go to their grandmother’s house to work? It’s supposed to be all about fun. And, truthfully, we had a lot of fun with her…after the work was done. She loved to play games…after the chores were complete. Part of her mission, I think, was to teach us grandkids to do a job right the first time around. And it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

I ran across a passage this week that made me think of this very thing. Some people brought a man to Jesus who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to heal him. Jesus took him aside, put His fingers in the man’s ears, and some of His spit on the man’s tongue. (Yes, this sounds disgusting!) Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Be opened!” In an instant, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue loosened, and he began to speak clearly. It was gross, crazy, strange, and miraculous all at the same time.

The people who witnessed this were absolutely blown away. And do you know what their response was? Here’s what they said about Jesus… “He has done everything well…” What they were indicating about Jesus was, “He does everything beautifully, commendably, and with excellence. Jesus does admirable things that are honorable, surpassing good and noble.”

He didn’t just do some things well. He did all things well. He didn’t choose to half-ass a few things now and then. He chose to do the job right (and with excellence) the first time. The Message Translation of Mark 7:37 records it this way, “He’s done it all and done it well.”

I wonder if Jesus grew up with a grandmother like mine?

Or maybe He just knew that it made perfect sense to do everything well. That doing things half-assed is a waste of time. Maybe He sensed that excellence and honor was the way God intended it to be. Maybe He figured out that if you’re gonna do a job, do it right the first time. Because in the end, this is the way, the effort, the attitude, and the character that pleases God…and my grandmother.

 

JESUS, WHERE’S WALDO, & PROBLEM SOLVING

About 15 years ago or so, the Kansas City Star used to put Where’s Waldo in the lineup of comic strips in their Sunday edition. Back in the day, we spent lots of Sundays with my folks who took the paper faithfully. I remember Sunday after Sunday, lying on the family room floor, poring over each comic strip with an occasional grin or chuckle. But one of my favorite parts of the funny papers was Where’s Waldo. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s one of those seek-and-find type things. Waldo is a kinda geeky looking guy with a red and white striped shirt, round glasses, wacky brown hair, and a red and white stocking cap. Where's WaldoEach cartoon features Waldo tucked away in some crazy, action-packed scene. And your job is to find him. I usually couldn’t. I’d spend a good 5-10 minutes searching for the guy, but wasn’t very successful. Then my oldest son, who was about 4 or 5 at the time, would come scrunch down beside me, and within 30 seconds would say, “There he is, momma!” I thought it was coincidence at first. But week after week, I’d search high and low, studying the scene with a careful eye, trying to find Waldo. I’d find someone who closely resembled Waldo, but not Waldo. Then like I said, Caleb would swoop in, and find him in a heartbeat without even trying.

Sometimes I think solutions to our problems are like this. We search high and low, in what feels like some crazy, action-packed scene. We look the scene (aka our problem) up one side and down the other and just can’t seem to find the solution. For us it’s sometimes grueling and clouded by seeing the same reality over and over again. Someone else, however, can take a look at the same reality and see the solution quickly. They can come in with a different perspective—one that’s not emotionally charged—and see the solution.

But here’s the thing…we don’t like those people. Even though they can see clearly what we should do, we don’t listen to their advice. We brush away their wisdom. It’s a pride thing in us. We have trouble admitting the fact that we have weaknesses and need help. There are times when we should seek out wisdom, help, advice, or counsel from others, but instead we just insist on trying harder ourselves.

You remember the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead? When He stood at the entrance of the tomb and hollered for Lazarus to come out, scripture records that “the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face” (John 11:44a).

Why did Jesus do that? Why didn’t Jesus bring Lazarus out all clean and fresh to put a further exclamation point on this miracle? Why did Jesus have Lazarus come out of the tomb all “mummified” like that?

The very next thing Jesus said to those close by was, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go (John 11:44b).” That’s why. Jesus asked whoever was near the tomb to help Lazarus take off what bound him. You see, Jesus knew we needed each other. Jesus knew the value of others stepping in to help, to unbind us, to be hands-on in setting us free from our problems.

If you can’t find Waldo, you might ask Caleb to help you.

If you can’t find the solution to your problem, however, you just might consider the Jesus method—of asking those nearby to help unbind you.

WHY?…OR WHY NOT? WHICH IS THE BETTER QUESTION?

A few years ago, a kid I knew went through a phase of answering every question you asked him with a question. He would ask you back the same question you asked him, only with a twist. For instance, if you’d ask him, “Why did you shorts on such a cold day?” He’d answer back, “Why not wear shorts on such a cold day?”

If you asked him, “Why did you leave the meeting early?” He’d respond, “Why not leave the meeting early?”

It was always kinda funny, always kinda unique. And when I considered his responses, I had to stop and think to myself, “Well I guess you have a point there! Why not? What would be a legitimate reason why not?” And usually I couldn’t come up with a viable, legitimate reason why not. So my questions (as to why)—which I originally thought were valid and reasonable—were actually not so much.

There’s an interesting story in three of the four gospels in which Jesus is found eating with some “tax collectors and sinners.” (That’s not my wording—that’s actually what the Bible says.)

“Tax collectors and sinners.” I wonder who all might have been lumped in this category back then? And who—what saintly person, group, or entity—got to label them as such?

So Jesus was hanging out with a group of sinners—criminals, reprobates, outlaws, degenerates, troublemakers, and whoever else. Next thing you know, some “high and mighties” come along and see Him doing this. (Gasp! Say it isn’t so!) Yep! There was Jesus (who was sinless) eating dinner and chillin’ with a house full of heathens. Appalled, I’m sure, they immediately ask some of Jesus’ close friends, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

I suppose from their perspective it’s a valid question, right? Why would Jesus—who was perfect, holy, and righteous—hang out with imperfect, unholy, and unrighteous folks? This was an important, legitimate question in their eyes. I mean, these “high and mighties” wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out with anyone who might taint their lily white reputation. So they questioned why. But a more important question in my eyes is “Why not eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Why NotWhy did Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners? Because He loved them. Jesus didn’t see their faults and flaws. He saw their faces. He didn’t let their immorality keep Him from seeing them as individuals. He saw past the sin, and saw a somebody.

Why did He hang out with sinners?

Why not?

Far too many of us are afraid to associate with the “tax collectors and sinners” in our world. We’re afraid we might be labeled. We’re too protective of our reputation. We fear we can’t relate. We somehow strangely believe “it’s not the Christian thing to do.”

You see, the skeptical eye, the critical heart, the judgmental perspective looks at Jesus and says “Why in the world are you hanging out with sinners?” But the grace-filled eye, the merciful heart, the open perspective says, “Why in the world wouldn’t you?”

Scripture says that Jesus was a “friend of tax collectors and sinners.” It also says that they were hanging around listening to what He had to say.

Why did Jesus hang out with sinners?

Why not?

Jesus chose to do life with the sinners, the outcasts, the heathens, and all kinds of disreputable folks. So why don’t we?

 

WHY I SHOT JESUS IN THE HEAD

I accidentally shot Jesus in the head with the hand sanitizer. I didn’t mean to do it. It just happened.

We have new hand sanitizers everywhere at work. The ones you mount on the wall. And they squirt out purifying, decontaminating foam. I don’t like the foam. I prefer the goo. In my expert hand sanitizing opinion, the goo does a better job of fully cleansing each and every part of my hands. The foam, on the other hand, seems like it evaporates into nothingness as I attempt to spread it around. To each her own, I suppose.

I digress…

Back to Jesus…

I didn’t want to get rid of the monster-sized goo pump sanitizer we previously had, so I moved it over on top of the piano. I don’t know if you have a gallon jug of hand sanitizer goo on top of your piano or not, but we do. Hand sanitizer on one end…Jesus bust on the other. The Jesus bust is a whole other issue, but for now I’ll let that one go.

Because I have quite a bit of physical contact with elderly people at my job, I feel the need to either wash my hands a lot or at least sanitize them. (I hope that doesn’t sound too weird or rude.) So I headed over to the piano, passing up not one but two foam sanitizers, so I could fill my hands with the goo. One pump usually does it for me, but if I’ve touched several “yucky” people—I’m just keeping it real, y’all—I’ll go for two.

So, one hand on the pump apparatus, one hand down below to catch all the disinfecting, sterilizing goo. Apparently because of the angle of the dried-on goo from its previous use, instead of squirting downward as gravity might have it, it shot out sideways…three feet to the left…right onto Jesus’ head. Bless Him!

For a hot second I was confused because my hand was not filled with the goo. But then I laughed. Out loud. Hard. Because I just shot Jesus in the head with the hand sanitizer. This was funny to me. And oh-so-ironic. Here I was, standing over the purifying goo and Jesus. Jesus now having cleansing goo running down from the crown of His head, over His face. Jesus being cleansed. Purified. Yeah…AS IF!

This is the irony.

Jesus isn’t in need of cleansing. I am. Jesus isn’t in need of purifying. I am. And it takes a whole lot more than a monster-sized jug of hand sanitizer to disinfect, and sterilize, and purify this sinful, unrighteous self of mine.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

I still chuckle each time I head over to the piano to get sanitized. I see the Jesus bust and am reminded that it’s all because of Him I can stand forgiven…cleansed…and purified.

Thanks be to God that He doesn’t get tired of me coming to Him for forgiveness. For a “do over.” For a clean, fresh start. That’s the kind of faithful God we have. And because He created humor, I’m sure He doesn’t mind that I shot Jesus in the head with the hand sanitizer.

 

A NEW YEAR’S INVITATION

I had the privilege of seeing the Trans-Siberian Orchestra perform in Kansas City the day after Christmas. This is a show I’ve been longing to see for many, many years but never wanted to spend the money to see it. But this year we were blessed by a connection of my husband’s at Time Warner Cable and got to enjoy the show for free in their executive suite at the Sprint Center. All I can say is “Wow!” If you ever get the chance to see them, go for it.

But the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, as talented as they are, is not the point of my blog today…

I was blown away and caught off guard by one of the numbers they performed. It was one of their more “quiet” songs—no laser lights, no pyrotechnics. Just a gal singing under one lone spotlight and someone else in the dimly lit background playing the keyboard. The song is called For the Sake of Our Brother, but in it contains the first verse and chorus of O Come All Ye Faithful. What I’m used to each year around Christmas is the traditional, almost boring rendition of O Come All Ye Faithful that we sing in church. Don’t misunderstand… I’ve always liked the song. But as most Christmas hymns do, they become routine, humdrum, and uninteresting at best. I hate that fact, but it’s a fact nonetheless. But as this gal sang the other night, she sang this particular song with such power and depth, yet with such vulnerability and purity. She sang as if she really meant the invitation she was singing about.

O come all ye faithful…
…Joyful and triumphant

Come and behold Him…

Come and adore Him…
…O come let us adore Him

I sat there speechless. Mesmerized. Sucked into the invitation. And personally challenged. I love Jesus. But adore Him? I adore cute little puppies, soft warm kittens, and huggable sweet babies. But adore Jesus? What?

If you look in the thesaurus, “adore” is associated with words like worship, esteem, revere, glorify, exalt, and honor. Somehow that no longer fits cute little puppies, soft warm kittens, and huggable sweet babies. It moves waaayyy beyond that.

The invitation in the song is for us not only to behold Jesus, but to adore Jesus. To come faithfully, with joy, and victoriously adore Him. And although we sing that song at Christmas time, I’m pretty sure the invitation extends beyond that hemmed-in, commercialized, two or three week time frame.

For the last week—since I left the concert—the idea of adoring Jesus hasn’t left my mind. In the things I read, in the experiences I’ve had, in the people I’ve encountered, the idea of adoring Jesus has come to the surface over and over again.

You see, I want my 2016 to be about adoring Jesus. I want to be faithful in doing that. I want to experience joy and triumph in 2016. And as much as I’d like that joy and triumph to be in things like my own personal happiness, my own career stability and advancement, deep down I’d rather that joy and triumph be in adoring Jesus. I want to faithfully, joyfully, and triumphantly adore Jesus—so much so that it affects the way I think, act, talk, relate to people, pray, react, read, give, and all that other stuff.

Jesus…

He’s the King. He’s the Christ. He’s the Rock. He’s the Redeemer.

2016 ChallengeHe’s the one who came to save the world. He’s the one who forgives us, loves us tenderly, gives us do-overs, never leaves us, treats us with grace, grabs us close when we’re hurt or afraid, leads us when we’re lost, and willingly doles out mercy. If you think about that…what’s not to adore?

So the invitation in the song is my challenge to myself for 2016. But the invitation in the song is for you as well. It’s a collective kind of thing.

So, are you willing to accept the invitation? Do you want in on the challenge? After all, it’s not about ME. It’s about US. It’s a New Year’s challenge for US.

“O COME…LET US ADORE HIM!”

(Note: If you’d like to watch a video of the song I’m referring to by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, click here.)

 

 

 

A TWO-STEP PLAN: How Hard Can It Be?

Does God laugh? Is He funny? Does He have a sense of humor? Ask Woody Allen and he’d say, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.”

Your plans, my plans, we all have plans. I don’t know whether God laughs at them or not, but most of the time we take our plans pretty seriously. Plans are those steps you follow or things you do in order to meet a desired outcome. Funny thing is sometimes we follow plans exactly. Sometimes we don’t. And sometimes we struggle to figure out just what the plan is.

When my oldest son was two years old, we pulled into our driveway after running some errands. Since we had an automatic garage door opener but no remote, we had to go inside our house, through the living room, through the dining room to where the door to the garage was, and push the “doorbell” button to open the garage door.

Well on this particular day, instead of going inside with me as he always did, Caleb asked if he could stay outside while I went in to open the garage door. I was a little reluctant because I knew he’d be out of my sight briefly, but went ahead and agreed to it. I told him firmly to stand right by the garage door handle and not to stray off.

I went in through the living room, through the dining room to where the door to the garage was, and pushed the button to open the garage. I looked down at the bottom of the garage door, and as it began to open, I saw Caleb’s little feet standing right there where they were supposed to be. I had a proud momma moment briefly as I thought to myself, “Yes! My boy followed the plan!”

I expected him to trot right into the dining room momentarily, so I stayed inside and began sifting through the mail. That’s when I heard it. The frantic cry coming from the garage: “Help, momma! Momma, help me! Help! Help!”

I quickly peeked out into the garage to the space where his little feet were just seconds before but they weren’t there. No, his feet were now about 4-5’ up in the air dangling and swinging because not only did Caleb follow the plan, he followed it to a T. He stayed right next to the handle on the garage door as instructed—“right next to” as in “held tightly to.” YIKES! (Yes, God has a sense of humor!)

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, it’s recorded in Mark 3:13-14 that He climbed a mountain and invited those he wanted with him. They climbed together. He settled on twelve, and designated them apostles. The plan was that they would be with him, and he would send them out to proclaim the Word…”

What's the plan?Did you catch that? There’s a clear plan lodged right there in the text.

“The plan was that they would be with Him, and He would send them out…”

There’s not only a plan, but a definite order here as well. Be with Him first. Send them out second. So somewhere about 2000 years ago, God laid out a two-step plan for His followers. Easy, peasy, right?

I’m pretty sure Solomon was correct, however, when hundreds of years earlier he wrote, “…God made us plain and simple, but we have made ourselves very complicated” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). And because we’ve made ourselves very complicated, we’ve made His plan complicated too. The plan was that they would be with Him, and He would send them out.

How hard is it to “be with Him”? How hard is it to spend time with Him each and every day? How hard is it to spend a few moments reading the Bible, to think about the greatness of God, to pause and thank Him for the good stuff, to ask Him for help, to hang out in His presence, to consider His ways and strive to honor them? How hard is it to follow the plan? It’s as hard as we choose it to be.  It’s as hard as we complicate it to be.

Jesus “invited those He wanted with Him.” Truth is He’s invited you and me as well. Truth is we are wanted. Truth is not only does He want us, He wants us with Him.

“And they climbed together.” Truth is He climbs each and every mountain together with us too.

The plan was—and still is—that they would be with Him, and He would send them out…

It’s simply a matter of following the plan!

WHY WE MUST BEGIN AT THE END

“This is where God has me.”

I find myself saying this a lot. And I find myself not liking this statement I make nor do I find myself liking the state I’m currently in. But…this is where God has me.

Some might argue that sentiment. This current state of life is NOT where God has me, but rather it’s where my choices have landed me. Or it’s where my lack of effort has put me. Maybe those things are true, but if God is sovereign—and I believe He is—then either way, this is where God has me.

It dawns on me that over the last five years or so, I’ve worked hard to create the life that I want. I have pursued paths, sought out different avenues, hoped and dreamed of the future that I wanted and believed would happen. Several times in the last several years I’ve charted my course, set the dial on “determined,” stepped up my game, and gone for it.

All of those things, however, have fallen apart. The goals haven’t been achieved, the dreams haven’t happened, the believing and hoping have come up lame and limping like an athlete who begins the race but never finishes.

And so I say…and keep on saying “This is where God has me.”

I don’t know how Paul did it when he said, “I’ve learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…” (Philippians 4:12). I mean, I know how he did it in theory. But I’m not sure how he did in in reality. The very next thing he said was, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

I can do all things…

Doesn’t that sound like just another pep talk, motivational mantra, or bumper sticker to live by? Matter of fact, I just saw it on the back of a t-shirt today.

begin at the end

This is where I’ll end my rant. In all my pursuit, hoping, dreaming, and believing, I’m now in a place where I’m asking God, “Okay…what do You want?” If the paths I’ve chosen and the futures I’ve longed for have all ended up in derailments or detours, then I have to begin where Jesus ended when He prayed, “God, all things are possible for you…But please, not what I want—what do you want?” That was the beginning of the end for Jesus. Relinquishing what He wanted. Surrendering to what God wanted for Him.

Rather than ask God to take part in the story I’ve already written for myself, I’ll try to embrace the one He’s already written for me. Maybe if I can come to the end of myself, it will be some sort of beginning.

But until then…this is where God has me.

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