Saturday, January 23, 2016

My Favorite Story

We are spoiled.  Modern Americans.

When someone tells us a story, we need drama and mayhem and action and suspense and every detail of emotion laid out for us, so we can feel it.

But the writers of the books of the Bible, were most often not novelists...or playwrights.  So some of the things we read in the Bible are a little bit more like reading a report, a history book.  And because of this, it's easy for us to gloss over extremely dramatic scenes in the Bible.  Scenes filled with mayhem and suspense and action.  We have to kind of work to really see the scenes that are described.

Even Hollywood, when portraying Jesus, has almost always gotten it very wrong, making Jesus look so serious and boring and unfeeling...a portrayal which seems to me to be completely impossible for someone who did the things Jesus is reported to have done.  An unfeeling person couldn't have pulled this stuff off.

There is a very very short story in Luke, which does not even get its own heading in many printings of the Bible.  It is clumped in with other, longer stories.  But it's in Luke, 7:11-15.  Five little verses, that need very little extrapolation to move my heart and cause me to love Jesus more.

It's very simple.  Jesus and His disciples came to a city called Nain.  (I really like that word for some reason.)  And they come upon a funeral procession.  A man, the only child of a widow woman, has died.  Jesus has compassion on the woman, the bereaved widow, who is no doubt distraught with grief.  He tells her not to cry, then touches the coffin the man is being carried in (this coffin probably didn't have a lid, which helps the rest of the story make more sense), and tells him to "arise."  And the man obediently sits up in the coffin and starts talking.

Every time i read or hear (or write about) these verses, i can't stop the tears from flowing.  And i think it moves me so much because it reveals Jesus' kindness.  In the previous verses, you can see that Jesus is sometimes trying to keep the whole "Son of God" thing a little bit on the down-low for now.  It's hard for Jesus to keep a low profile, what with all the miracles and crowds following him around, but still, you can see that He isn't really ready to make His big announcement and let the pieces fall where they may.  Folks get upset about you calling yourself the Son of God, and this move has to be timed well.

But in this moment, when Jesus sees the widow weeping, following the procession of her dead son out the city gates, He is moved with compassion and just jumps out there and stops the suffering.  I LOVE that!  

I can't even imagine the disbelief and celebration that followed this tiny, short, life-altering moment in the city of Nain.  And it makes me love Jesus so much!

11 Soon afterwards He went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, [a]accompanied by a large crowd. 12 Now as He approached the gate of the city, [b]a dead man was being carried out, the [c]only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her.13 When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, [d]Do not weep.” 14 And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” 15 The [e]dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother. 16 Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and, “God has [f]visited His people!” 17 This report concerning Him went out all over Judea and in all the surrounding district.

Monday, December 28, 2015

just one thing

Last year, around this time, the radio station i listen to, #ksbj, in Houston, was promoting an idea.  An idea that instead of new year's resolutions, what if we picked one thing we want to spiritually improve in our lives this year.  Just one thing to bring before God and say, "please teach me about this and help me to do it."

I deeply dislike new year's resolutions, but this idea i felt good about.  To be honest, i didn't really think about it.  I remember sitting in my car, driving down the road, listening to the dj describe the concept - probably much better than i did it just now - and before i could even think about it, i just breathed the word, "obedience."

And sitting here, at the end of 2015, looking back, i am so glad for that moment.  As a follower of Jesus, and Jesus being someone i generally can't see with my physical eyes or hear with my human ears, learning to hear Him and obey Him, is integral to following Him, and i needed help BAD.  Well, i still need help BAD, but this past year of putting my obedience issues before God has resulted in some really big steps forward - or upward, toward God.

With the beginning of a new year SO close, i have had in my heart to pick a new thing.  But this year nothing has been coming to mind so easily.

Until today.

It's amazing what can happen when you just stop and spend a few minutes reading God's words and giving Him a chance to affect your you.

In my Bible reading lately, i have been very hungry for the words of Jesus, specifically.  And so i have been reading the gospels.  Today, i read in Mark 12, a story that churchgoers like myself have heard or read approximately 1,572,895,677.83 times...

Mark 12:28-34 
28 One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the [a]foremost of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Today, i made myself stop at the end of verse 30.  I usually cruise quickly to the second greatest commandment because it's easier to wrap my head around.  I may not be very good at it, but at least i can conceptualize what it might look like.  But figuring out what it really means in my everyday life to love God, my Lord with all of my heart and my soul and my mind and my strength, is really quite a tall order, and i don't think i know what it looks like.

I asked God to help me, and then i read a passage that we've only read order heard maybe 6 million and 55 times ...  the story of the widow's mite.

The Widow’s Mite 
41 And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting [u]money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two [v]small copper coins, which amount to a [w]cent. 43 Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all [x]the contributors to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their [y]surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, [z]all she had to live on.”

My eyes stalled on those last six words.  All she had to live on.

All she had to live on.

And i just started crying.  How heart-wrenching to have nothing more than this to live on, and how much more heart-wrenching to witness this beautiful woman give up even that.  Why?  Better than why...HOW?  How could she do this?  She's so much better than me!

I took the passages i read this morning, with me in my heart as i continued my day, and at some point, i might have gotten the point.  Maybe there's a reason Jesus brought the widow and her mite to the disciples' attention immediately after explaining which commandment was the greatest.  Is this what that love looks like?  To love the Lord your God with all of your heart and all of your soul and all of your mind and all of your strength.  My muscles tense when i read those words.  What an all encompassing effort.  I feel so weak when i think about it.  But now at least i have a picture of what it might look like.

Two coins that make a cent... what i have - it is very little.

What He's impressed with - it's just everything i have.

I think i found my one thing.

Lord, show me how i can love YOU more than anything.

more than ME.

Monday, December 21, 2015

To the Dads

One of the things that is good for me about going to the laundromat to do my laundry is that it forces me to have some limited contact with complete strangers - something i don't really do naturally.  But i have to have clean clothes, so ... complete strangers it is.

Something that always warms my heart is when i see young dads at the laundromat with their kids, taking care of business.  Family business.

I don't think young men - or even old men - really really understand how meaningful it is for a child to have that man in their life, respecting the importance of their daily life, dealing with the laundry, or the whatever, and caring for their kids.

I don't have a lot of words on this tonight, but i just want to say.  Way to go, dads.  Way to go, lifting up your kids.  Way to go, letting them know that their thoughts and experiences are important to you.  Way to go, being being gentle and caring and firm.  Way to go, being all the things that God made dads to be.

Thank you, and please don't give up.

Your investment in things that may seem mundane and inconsequential, has lifelong impact on your kids.  Your simply listening to them tell you about whatever they have to think about, instills in them that they have value.  It teaches them that their thoughts and ideas matter.  Your gentle discipline teaches them that they are worth your time and that you care enough about them to be interested in the value of their actions.  The lifelong value of your investment is priceless.  Everyone who ever meets them benefits from your investment.

Again, thank you and don't give up.