Featherless Bipeds (With Flat Nails)

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That is how Plato once described humans. Not a pretty sight! “With flat nails” was added by Plato’s Academy to distinguish humans from  plucked chickens.

We are indeed featherless bipeds with flat nails, but we are much more. First of all, we’re created in the image of God—and that’s no insignificant thing. Our fallen condition makes it impossible to walk with a pure, God-like heart; nevertheless, we have qualities that closely resemble certain characteristics of God. For instance, we have a capacity for sacrificial love. We have a mind that can imagine and the will to create what is imagined. Additionally, we have the capacity for acts of kindness, joy, patience, and gentleness, and we can extend those mercies to others. We also admire and honor goodness and generosity and the reparing of broken things.

Then, there is our dignity and value. Everything has a price, but most of us sense and know that humans shouldn’t wear a price tag, and they should never be bought or sold. To do so, sets a limit on their worth. Most of us would agree that the worst crimes are against human dignity. Abuse, murder, slavery, oppression of every form, and sexual exploitation are aggressions against human dignity and innate value. They degrade us. Not only this, but the person doing those things mutilates his or her own dignity. Created to live above base attitudes and actions, anything that defiles our worth through the contempt of others also dishonors us. When we act on those attitudes, it darkens what we were created for–glory and beauty. It is a grief to God and should be to us. We are made for so much more.

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Humans have also been invited into the society of the Godhead. We have been chosen to live, and can choose to live in Christ and fellowship with God. We can walk in oneness with Him—as Christ prayed in John 17. Within the Trinity there is divine love, gentle service, humility and incomparable grace. We can claim a portion for ourselves and give them out to those with whom we come into contact.

Living in the divine dance of unfathomable grace, love and mercy is an invitation given to us featherless bipeds. It is a holy invitation that should take our breath away. We have the potential of living in God’s presence and taking him where we go—impacting the world in powerful ways. By doing so, we bring God’s glorious truth, love, and grace into this horribly hurting and broken world.

We are indeed, featherless bipeds with flat nails, but we have incalculable worth and value to God and the world, especially as we abide and live in union with HIM through Christ. We can actually bless (or curse) the world. That’s one very important thing that Plato’s Academy left off of their narrow definition of humans.

 

 

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What is one word you would use to describe Jesus?

IMG_0331.JPG – Version 2What is one word you would use to describe Jesus? Seriously, think about it before reading on. Would it be: Lord, happy, friend, Savior, busy, kind, loving, wise, intense, judgmental, compassionate, determined, holy?

Dallas Willard once asked a man he mentored the same question. When Dallas was asked what his one word would be, he replied, “Relaxed.”

What a great word! Some would disagree, and this certainly isn’t a theologically certain opinion. It is an observation of the way Jesus behaved.

Think about his pace compared to our own. I can’t imagine him ever saying, “Move it, move it,” or honking in traffic unless it was to protect someone. Can you envisage Jesus having a promotional manager? It probably drove a few of the disciples a little nuts—like Martha or Peter—and probably Judas. The disciples were ready to get on with ruling beside him. “Get on with it—bring on the Kingdom, Jesus.” Jesus just walked. Faithfully. Every day. For 33 ½ years. He spoke a different language, lived in a different world, and in another time zone–the language, world, and time zone of God’s Kingdom.

Jesus was on a mission and had many things to do, but he trusted his Father would order his life. He had strong emotions, and he often acted boldly, may have walked quickly sometimes, and sometimes acted or spoke with righteous anger. (Consider the overturning of the tables in the temple, the spiritual struggle in the Garden, or his strong words to the Pharisees.) I’m not trying to evaluate every moment of his life. I’m talking here about an overall attitude of restful trust.

Jesus walked. He didn’t run, and there is no biblical record of him riding anything except a donkey as an unborn infant and as a man on his ways to the cross. Jesus did not mind being interrupted. He never checked his watch or looked at his iPhone while talking to someone. As important as he was, he was not filled with a need to prove his self-importance by excess busyness.

Jesus stayed up late or wakened early to be aloneand pray before beginning his day—not to get ahead of the game—but to hearfrom his Father. When things got too crazy—like when the crowds pursued him to make him king, he wandered off to be alone.When some tried to stone him, he walkedthrough the crowds, protected. When passing through the temple he stoppedto heal the blind and lame. He took his time with the widow of Nain and Bartimaeus. He waiteduntil Lazarus was good and dead before going to see Mary and Martha about a resurrection. When looking for tax money, he didn’t panic. He sent someone fishing, and used the situation as an illustration. He pausedwhen the woman with an issue of blood was healed. He went backto the healed man born blind when he found out he had been kicked out of the temple. Jesus was prepared to stopwhat he was doing and follow the centurion when asked to heal his daughter. He was busy but not hurried.

Was it because he knew the world was in the loving hands of his Heavenly Father? Was such peace and tranquility a result of a kind of knowledge of God that I don’t often possess? Was it because he listened hard for the voice of his Father and trusted Him to move on his behalf if needed?

The other day, I got some unhappy news and my heart rate increased, I felt my ears pound and realized rather quickly that I was not in my “right” mind—I was in my “wrong” mind. I wanted to do something about it—anything would be good. But what I needed was a mental stretch—a readjustment of my thoughts. I didn’t need to dismiss the news, but I did need to remind myself that God is still present. He is still good, and He never fails to work ALL things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. I needed to pull away to look at Jesus, that ever-faithful Savior and friend and all-powerful, loving brother.

My heart rate slowed as my eyes lifted up.

The knowledge of an always-good and faithful Father helped Jesus relax and sleep during a storm in the middle of an angry sea. Maybe such knowledge will help me relax and rest as well.

I believe. Help my unbelief.

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The Examen

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If you’re a Christian, and if you are at all like me, you can get bogged down in repentance—meaning, when you start confessing sin and recognizing failures, you go into despair.

I have been doing something a little different lately. It’s making a difference. It’s called Examen.

At the end of the day—or sometimes in the mornings—I look back at the previous 24 hours. I ask myself several questions. One is, where did my heart and deeds fall short of God’s glory? The other is, where did I see God in my day or my deeds? I do this while asking for God’s Spirit to lead my heart, and I do it with a thankful spirit. I search for his movement in my life.

First, where did I fall short? When did I fail to walk in love? When was I blind or too busy to help? When did I speak when I should have listened or listened when I should have spoken? Was I angry or short-fused, neglectful or uncaring? I KNOW I miss things all the time, but I can’t see what I can’t see.  This is where I trust God to show me what I need to know. I don’t dig for dirt. I ask God for forgiveness and the power and ability to change. I perform this “looking” objectively. I try not to feel despair. I examine it like I might look at a piece of art–checking out the lines and contours of the sculpture looking for things that need to be chipped away. Next, I thank God for helping me see, and I choose to hope in his unfailing love to help me in the future. I ask for needed power, as well as an ability to see potential sin traps before I act. I don’t do it desperately, but in great hope with thanksgiving. Even the inclination to do this is proof he’s at work.

(It’s really important to KNOW that God loves you and is for you as you do this. He’s not an old curmudgeon in the sky waiting to whollop you. He’s an intimate ally united with you by his Spirit so that you are enabled to walk in the Spirit.) (Romans 8)

The second thing I do is look back at where I saw God or how I acted rightly with his power. I do this objectively, too, and with thanksgiving. Ah, yes, I was kind to a stranger. I prayed for the woman in line at the grocery store who looked harried and upset and helped with her groceries. I made a nice meal for my family, or I held my tongue when someone was cruel or unkind to me. I experienced God, enjoyed and worshipped him when I saw a bevy of cardinals on the way to work and when I heard the sound of an owl and the shriek of a hawk as he soared over the house. Then I give thanks. “Thank you for helping me see your presence in my life and for helping me act more Christ-like from my heart.” I am often surprised at how many moments he was there–like all day!!

Why is this important? I can get engrossed in my sin and fail to see God’s faithfulness along the way. By doing this, I can applaud his work in me–which is just another grace to me, after all. (I’m often surprised when something absolutely loving, non-judgmental, and kind comes from my heart and mouth.)

Of course, confessing and giving thanks throughout the day is a glorious and faithful way to walk. I do that, too. What I find is that by doing this summary at the end of the day, I am more intentional during the next day to look for his movement and presence, and I’m more cognizant of opportunities to act Christ-like, and avoid temptation and sin as it comes at me.

There is something about summing up the day that is different and more hopeful than going through the day fumbling between sin and repentance. I’m not quite certain what qualitative difference there is, but I feel it.

Also, by ending the day looking at the positive movement of God in my life, I end the day  more aware of God’s faithful presence and my progress in the gospel. It sets me up to look for him the next day, and by golly, I see him at work in my life, once again. There is great wisdom in ending the day thanking God for what he has done, is doing, and will continue to do on our behalf. It just makes me downright happy!!

 

 

 

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Do Something – Sew Powerful

A friend of mine recently told me about a ministry project she is doing from home. She makes purses that hold washable female products for women living in a slum community in Lusaka, Zambia. Her husband and her daughter are disabled, and she cares for a grandson, too. She has to stay close to home. I’m humbled by her devotion to relieving the suffering of others.  I asked her about the ministry and this is what she sent me. The ministry is called Sew Powerful.

“The more I have learned about this group, the more impressed I have been.  I am not one to jump into something without knowing what they believe, even when it’s a faith-based group–perhaps especially when it’s faith-based.  So I did LOTS of reading.  These people are just ordinary believers who are doing some extraordinary things because God laid something on their hearts: a school in a small slum community in Lusaka, Zambia.  They are not trying to do evangelism as much as they are trying to care for widows and orphans in the wake of the AIDS tidal wave in southern Africa.  They focus on one small community, but their model is catching the attention of other ministries.  They are committed to building and empowering the local community and not just handing them money or goods.

The song we sang at church this morning “So Will I,” contains a line near the end that goes, “I can see your heart eight billion different ways, each precious one a child you died to save.  If you gave your life to love them, so will I.”   That line brings tears to my eyes every time we sing it.

For one thing, it first arrested my attention because when I was in school (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, or so my children tell me!), we were taught there were about six billion people on the earth.  Twenty years later when my girls were in school, it was seven billion.  Now it’s more than eight billion and growing quickly—so many people and so much need.   For much of my adult life I have struggled with wanting to do something to help all those millions of people who live with such extreme poverty, disease, despair, persecution… the list is endless.  But it all seems SO HUGE.  It’s almost paralyzing.

Here lately God has shown both Chuck and me that doing something for His kingdom doesn’t mean doing something huge.  It just means doing SOMETHING.  We do what God puts in front of us, the next right thing.  I believe God put this in front of me, literally dropped it in my lap as it were.  It seems such a small thing, but if God pursues the world one precious human heart at a time, then I guess it’s not too small a thing for me to bless one precious child at a time.”

After attending a quilting show in Paducah, Kentucky, she heard another story that makes her sewing adventure even more meaningful.

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Sample purse usually filled with a note and washable hygiene products. About 60% of the young women there are HIV positive. 

“The most profound moment at the show came when I overheard another “Sew Powerful” volunteer tell about the impact of the note cards we put in the purses. These girls live in extreme poverty. Most have lost parents. Many are HIV positive. They desperately need encouragement. So when I heard they treasure the notes perhaps more than the pretty purses, I almost cried. When I learned that the young women want to know our names so they can pray for us, I did cry! I felt deeply humbled but encouraged by their care.”

I am encouraged and humbled by Karen’s heart. Lord, may we all help change the world one life, one word, one note, or one purse at a time.

Here is the link. “Sew Powerful” If you have any interest in helping young girls from around the world with your sewing gifts, you might want to check it out.

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What’s Up?

Version 3

St. Botolph’s Church, Boston, England 

I’ve been a Christian a long time—longer than most who read this have been alive. My progress as a believer and follower of Christ has ebbed and flowed. Some years I make great headway in my love for God and others. Other years, I drift. Work distracts me; life is hard, and I blame God or others; I’m depressed and have trouble holding onto truth and hope. Or, worst of all, I get stuck in sin or shame and don’t believe God forgives or is sufficient to deliver me from sin’s power.

But one thing I’ve found to be true: the more time I spend with God in his Word, in prayer, worship (and other spiritual practices) or even in the simple awareness of his loving, glorious presence, the more I grow. Many have opted out of serious spiritual practices. Somehow the belief that Sunday morning worship alone will sustain and propel us has been an easy lie to believe. It is true that worship in community is a place for us to receive comfort and truth, at least enough to keep us out of the ditches. Sundays offer fuel for our fires, and preaching is an important means of grace. (Isaiah 55:9-10) But a dusting of the Divine is not what we are created for. God has designed us to dive in—to abide—to taste and see that the Lord is good every single day—to seek and to find more. We are, after all, his children.

Casual friendship we understand. We have many associations like that, but deep relationships must be nurtured, otherwise they fade away. Marriage is that way. Bosom friends (as Anne with an “E” would say) demand close attention. We drift away from human relationships for lots of rational and irrational reasons; the same can be said of our relationship with God.

If one thinks about it, casual friendship with God is a ridiculous idea. Why would anyone want to shy away from someone so loving and kind, gentle and whole—someone who is an intimate ally—and the happiest and most gloriously good being in the universe? Also, he’s THE one whose arms are wide open to us, always. Besides that, his ways are so much better than our own.

So, why do we withdraw, skip prayer, rarely (if ever) meditate, seldom dig in to study and almost never memorize Scripture. I would say, and I believe I’m correct, we don’t believe it matters—at least not very much, and we believe that the pursuit isn’t worth the effort.

Knowing God, according to C. H. Spurgeon is the preeminent goal of a Christian. “The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.”* I agree. Even if someone doesn’t believe in God, a wise man would at least try to find out what all the fuss is about.

With each passing year of walking with Christ, he has become more and more real—an almost tangible presence with me. Part of that growth is in my faith to believe the things he says about abiding in me and being one with me as he is one with his Father. Union with Christ: that is my focus over the past year.

It almost sounds blasphemous—as do most of God’s mysterious plans for grace. The whole scheme is unbelievably good. He is more than just a Savior guaranteeing heaven. He is an indwelling Spirit by whom we cry out Abba, Father. (Romans 8:15) He is willing to be a constant, loving companion and a firm abiding friend.

He is a loving, intimate ally—someone who is for us—not against us.

But there are other forces at work: the world keeps us busy and tells us that we should value x, y, or z instead of Christ and his Kingdom. Our flesh craves rest, pleasure, or power, and it’s often lazy or addicted to all kinds of things: some are evil, but some are just natural needs gone awry (like food or sex). Then there is the evil one himself. I don’t know how he manages to tempt us—at least not exactly how it works for him—but according to Scripture, he is one of our enemies prowling about seeking whom he might devour. Those who don’t know Christ are the most susceptible to his temptations because they have neither truth nor the Holy Spirit to help or give a desire to resist. But we can be just as susceptible if we’re not strengthened by steady spiritual bread.

So, where does that put us? What’s up with us? Are we going to choose over and over again throughout the day the best, highest, most glorious One, or are we going to drift—letting our thoughts run the way of the world and our flesh—allowing ourselves, because of lack of fortification, to be easily tempted to do evil. Are we going to let our minds run where they will, or are we going to bring thoughts captive to the glory and honor of the one true God and his Son—and his Kingdom.

Learning to enjoy God doesn’t come automatically—and part of the reason is that we have believed lies about him. That’s where the word, encouraging relationships, and worship and prayer come in. Not every church is going to preach truth, either. We have to search for good ones, and we have to check preaching against Scripture. We are personally responsible for knowing the difference. My pastor and church are amazing. But no oneis going to stand with us before Christ. We will all stand alone with Christ’s righteousness or without it, and we’ll carry a handful of good deeds done in his power or without it.

I want the quality of my works to withstand the fire. (I Cor. 3:7-15) I want to walk today being mindful of my union with Christ and his Holy Spirit indwelling me. I want to impact the world because of his indwelling Spirit while being conscious of what he wants to do in the world around me. And that, my friend, takes time, energy, focus, and a daily fight as I make room in my life to experience God.

But it’s worth it!

 

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The Favor of God

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It seemed to be an ordinary Sabbath—filled with ordinary Sabbath ritual. Each man and woman expected a reading from the scroll, prayer, and perhaps an admonition.

God brought dynamite instead—upending their expectations and challenging them to believe an impossible thing—the Messiah had come and was present as a man they knew well. He was the son of Mary and Joseph, a humble carpenter with a questionable birth story, a boy who had played with their children, the person who had repaired their doors, fixed their carts, and mended their yokes. Kind? Yes. Helpful and skillful? Absolutely! Messiah? Blasphemy!

Jesus left the family workshop in Nazareth several weeks earlier to be baptized by John. After that, He went into the wilderness for a forty-day fast and a furious fight with evil. Then, He went back home, perhaps for a home-cooked meal and to spend time with His family before His public ministry officially began. Perhaps He needed to attend a wedding. For whatever reason, the Sabbath came while He was there. Then, as was His habit, He went to the synagogue. Providentially, someone handed Him the parchment; Jesus took it and slowly and patiently unrolled the scroll until He found Isaiah 61. He began to read. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

Jesus closed the scroll and sat down. “The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”(Luke 4:18-21 NASB)

Those who heard Him were confused. At first they thought the words were “gracious.” Could this be? But…reason took over. “This is the carpenter’s son. He is claiming to be a prophet and accusing us of being like those evil men who reject their hometown prophets.” Their irritation grew to fury as they accused Jesus of blasphemy, and then they shoved and pushed Him forcibly out of town to the edge of a precipice where they tried to throw Him to his death.

It was no ordinary Sabbath.

Favor. Isaiah 61 and Luke 4 speak of favor—a favorable year—the year of the Lord’s favor. The idea that God would bring favor in this particular package provoked them. It was peculiar. Unexpected. Preposterous. The Messiah was to be glorious and kingly; this humble man was no king.

The deity and humanity of Christ still provoke people to anger. It is absolute foolishness to those who don’t believe, but to us who do, it speaks of an incomprehensible humility and grace unseen in other faiths.

Moslems, for instance, consider our claims to be insulting to God. God, in their minds, would never go to such humiliating extremes to let mankind know of His love and mercy—of His grace and favor. Man should bow to Allah and seek him, not the other way around. God loses face to come in search of man—but that’s exactly what God does in Christ. He chases us down so that He can bestow favor on us.

With these verses, Jesus introduced a 3-½ year ministry that would change the face of faith. He introduced intimacy with the Father. Kinship with God. A brotherly relationship with His people.

These startling words in Luke 4, the subsequent ministry of Christ, the Gospels, the Old Testament references to Messiah, and the Epistles explain the nature of God’s favor.

We are no longer his enemy; we are His friends.

He has torn down the veil between us, and we have bold access to His throne.

We no longer fear punishment, but are loved by the Father like Jesus was loved.

extended hands-ElderlyCareWe are also empowered by the same Spirit to do those things He commands us to do. By God’s grace and with his approval and delight, we get to walk into a broken world in God’s strength, and in the midst of the world’s heartache and sin, demonstrate outrageous love, mercy, goodness and grace. We have the privilege of extending God’s hands of favor to others, just as he extended that favor to us.

 

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Barney and the Midnight-Blue Blanket: the Power of Shame

IMG_1314Recently my extraordinarily active (and almost-brilliant) dog, Barnabus, chewed a giant hole in my husband’s blanket. Yes, my husband has a blanket. It’s not a security blanket, but it’s a perfect weight. Every night he pulls it over himself before he goes to sleep. It works.

Barney loves blankets. He has some sort of blanket fetish. He nurses them like a baby, chews on them nervously like a chew toy, and occasionally he tries to make a blanket his woman—digging with his paws as he attempts to push it into a good-size heap; then he attempts to mount it.

Yes. He’s a dog. He has chewed multiple holes in a long list of blankets, quilts, sheets, and coverlets of all shapes and sizes.

When Raymond discovered the fifteen-inch hole in the center of his deliciously soft blanket, he held it up and glared at Barney through it.

What is this? O my goodness, Barney, what is this? How could you? This is Papa’s blanket!” His tone was not kind. It was accusatory and angry. Disappointed even.

“No, Barney, no,” he spoke plaintively. “You can’t chew holes in Papa’s blanket. See what IMG_1217you’ve done?” He, lifted, once again, the evidence of Barney’s sin—this gaping hole in the middle of this beautiful midnight blue coverlet. Barney got the message and slunk off—ears back and his curled tail tucked beneath his body. With his head down, he looked back over his right shoulder and glanced at his master and his mess as he crept from the room. He skulked to the living room and into his shame hole—a place between a table and chair in our living room. It’s somewhat hidden from everyone else. In a little while, after a recovery nap, he came out. He seemed fine.

When Raymond was ready for bed, he got out his blanket, and pulled the holey coverlet up and over himself—the hole leaving bare a part of his back. Barney eyed the blanket and the hole he’d made and hopped off the bed. I watched as he slid from the room, glancing over his shoulder at Raymond as he left to hide in his shame hole, once again. When I went to bed, I found him still huddled there.

“It’s okay. Come here, Buddy,” I said as I reached out to caress his head and scratch behind his ears. I urged him to come, and he did, but he didn’t sleep curled up beside Raymond—his usual position—he snuggled with me instead.

The next night the same thing happened. The blanket came out, and Barney left the room. Only this time, he went to the spare bedroom to sleep.

He rejoined us sometime during the night—but once again—he stayed away from Raymond and the offensive reminder of his sin.

The next day I told Raymond what I’d observed. “Oh, my poor puppy,” he oozed, as he glanced at his beloved pet. It wasn’t long before he got out a needle and thread and began to sew up the hole.

Version 2You’ve got to understand something about my husband’s relationship with his dog. He LOVES this animal. He takes him everywhere he can, buys him cheeseburgers, plays with him while he works in the yard, shares ALL his food, and even lets this 75 pound animal sit in his lap. It hurt his soul to think Barney felt shame, and that this thoughtless and impulsive act had literally created a hole between them.

After he repaired the giant gap, he held the blanket up for Barney to see. “Look Barney, I fixed it. See. No hole.”

That evening, when Raymond headed to bed, got out the blanket, and pulled it over himself, Barney drew near and curled up beside his master. The hole was gone—so was the shame. Relationship was restored.

The blanket has a long ugly scar now. I don’t think Barney notices it. I think he sees a seamless blanket because Raymond said there was no hole. It’s repaired, and beautiful, and whole once again. It’s as if he’d never sinned. He’s free to snuggle at will.

 

 

* The events that took place are true. I don’t know what Barney felt and thought, but I do know what he did.

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