What Audacity!

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Have you ever considered how audacious Jesus was?

He broke every aspect of the religious culture of His day. He hung out with all the wrong people. He even seemed to enjoy doing so, not because He was showing the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of the day. He actually loved them. He never saw them as less than.

I love how Leslie Leyland Fields describes this:

“Jesus seems to collect them, the ones every other leader ignores, the kind of followers no one else wants: the sick and weeping, lame and palsied.”

And it was really a shock when He started choosing His disciples. They were just common fisherman by and large. There was even a tax collector and some were known to have quite a temper. They never studied the Torah. What made them so special?

I heard He even hung out with that weird guy who was baptizing by the river whose name was John and He let John baptize Him. If God sent Him, why would He consider that? No one was sure of whether John was really legit or not.

There was a big stir when He went to the wedding with His mother. I guess the host’s wine ran out and He asked for the water pots to be brought and then somehow turned that water into wine. The wine was supposed to be the best wine served that whole night. Talk about a bold move!

Then there were women.

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He actually hung out with women. How scandalous that was! Some of the women were known to be loose and free with favors. There was even a harlot. And then that madman who went around half naked much of the time. They say He cast out demons and sent them into a herd of pigs that ran over a cliff.

Unbelievable!

None of it made sense. If He were the Messiah, He would never have been born to Mary and Joseph, the carpenter. Besides He didn’t look or act like a king and He didn’t crush the Romans who were making life so difficult or deal with the priests who were robbing people blind sometimes.

I think we miss seeing this Jesus many of us profess with all His glory displayed for us to see. He loved no matter who you were, where you were born, how you had messed up, what disease you had, who your parents were. How audacious!

It can be easy to forget that the word “nice” doesn’t seem to show up as a character trait or a fruit of the spirit. It can be easy for us to be misled, as we desire to be like Him. We try to be “nice” and end up being inauthentic instead of loving boldly and audaciously as He did. He didn’t limit His circle to the approved group…quite the opposite. He held nothing back, not just on the cross but every time He interacted with anyone.

I wonder if we have ever considered how dangerous life could be if we really became more like Him. People wouldn’t “get” us. The crowd we usually hang with would be confused and maybe a little irritated if we brought “one of those people” to our meeting.

The truth is that He came to shake things up because no one was really getting in touch with the truth about His Father, our Father. He was clear on His mission and purpose, but He wasn’t out to start a revolution.

He was the revolution.

Whether you accepted Him or not, whether you do today, the world has never been the same because He came and with a holy audacity that turned the world on its ear.

“The audacity of Jesus! To love people like me, like them, and to move us toward faith in him! To sweep so many undeserving into heaven!”

Leslie Leyland Fields
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The Final Quarter

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How are you running today?

You may be saying that you’re not a runner and in the usual sense of that word, I am not either. I sometimes wish I had done that when I was younger, fitter, and stronger so I could be doing it now, but that didn’t happen, so I am a walker instead. But I am inspired by our daughter who didn’t start running until mid-life and diligently trained to develop that habit and skill.

The truth is that as believers we are all runners. We hear that in so many passages in Paul’s epistles and we hear it very clearly in Hebrews:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

This has always been a favorite verse of mine because it reminds me each day of the truth upon which I base my life. Each of us has a race marked out for us in this life. Mine likely does not look like yours nor yours look like mine, but it is a path set before each of us designed by God for our place in his Kingdom and our purpose within it. And clearly the race is important, or this verse and others wouldn’t be telling us there would be hindrances and things meant to tangle us up before we finish the race.

Within that race there are many parts and to finish the race well, each part of it will require something of us. The longer we run, the farther we are along on the field, the harder the race will feel. It can cause us to want to stop, give up the whole idea, and quit.

This year has been one where many of us have had more than a few hard places on the course set before us. We hoped as the year wound down that we would be near the end of this part of the course, but it isn’t clear just when this part of the course will end. Depending on our training, our endurance may be strained about this point.

I get that! But then I look at some of the other runners near me and I am reminded not to give in to fatigue or any other hindrances as I push forward each day. I look in one direction and I see our son who was diagnosed with cancer and whose path included rounds of chemo and a life upended from what was anticipated. In him we watched the faith he has nourished since childhood dig deep into the roots already there and sustain him along with those “running” with him to finish this part of the course set before him.

I look in another direction and I see our daughter managing multiple changes in the path before her this year for this part of her path and I see her grab hold of the faith founded on other seasons of challenge. I see her pick up the shield of faith and adjust her focus and keep moving forward.

The examples of people I can see on the course set before them are many and I see the challenge each faces, and I am reminded of that verse in Hebrews and the need for perseverance, endurance, to push forward. I am reminded of how the letters to each church noted in the early chapters of the book of Revelation speak of the rewards given to those who endure to the end.

I think of the words of Samwise Gamgee written by J.R.R. Tolkien in the first book of the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring as the film version draws to a close:

“It’s like the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.”

J.R.R. Tolkien in The Fellowship of the Ring

One of the things I chose for my own physical health is to work with a personal trainer. I am not and have never been an athlete, but I am very aware that my aging body is not as strong as it once was, my posture is not as straight as it used to be, and my flexibility and endurance has suffered too. Working with weight training under the guidance of a trainer is not “fun” for me, but if I am going to steward this physical body it requires I add weight training to be able to finish the path set before me as strong as I can, and training is one of the routes to that.

Beyond that there is the significant training in the spirit realm that must go on daily to push back entanglements and hindrances that would slow me down, throw me off course or tempt me to stop. It means putting on the full armor of God Paul writes about in Ephesians 6 and taking every thought captive he writes in 2 Corinthians 5.

When do you notice the benefits of training? When you come to the tough places on the course, when you are in the final quarter of the game, and you’re exhausted and feel totally spent. Good players of sports know that well. They understand the words of Chris Fabry:

“…you have to play for the final quarter of the game and not halftime.”

Chris Fabry in June Bug

This year as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States unlike many we might have celebrated, we need to remember we need to play the final quarter and the Lord’s strength in us will be there as we endure. Endurance will not be easy but have its rewards.

In our family there will be a long list of those in our own families and beyond. We see evidence of more than just one or two running with endurance the path before them whether victory lies in this life or the next. After all, as believers, life doesn’t end in this world.

“This is about life being ahead of you and you run at it! Because you never know how far you can run unless you run.”

Penny Chenery in the movie, Secretariat

If I Didn’t Speak A Word…

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We are bombarded by words on every side from more sources and devices than ever before. Those of us who write seem to have a special love of words and make a craft using them in one form or another. We use them to express ideas, thoughts, dreams, hopes, and more. But we all know words have many sides to them.

Words can comfort or words can wound. Words can woo or words can reject. Words can give blessing or words can bring cursing. Words can bring hope or words can bring despair. Words can propel us toward the future or keep us stuck in the past. Words can bring peace or words can bring war.

For some of us, words tumble out of our mouths easily about nearly anything and if someone is around us often, they know a lot about what is swirling around in our heads and hearts. Others of us find words difficult to craft to convey the thoughts and perspectives we may have been mulling over for some time. In such cases as these, it can be far too easy to make judgments about someone opposite from us about what they have said or not said.

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But would you really have an accurate understanding of either type of person based on that point alone? What if I didn’t speak a word to you? What would my life say to you? Perhaps that is the more accurate evidence of what matters to me, what I believe, what I am passionate about, and gives you a window into the deepest parts of my heart, mind, and soul. For you see, it is those things that are harder to deny or keep hidden than what my words (your words) reveal about me (or you).

We have just passed a significant historical date in U.S. history on November 19. It was November 19, 1863, and Abraham Lincoln gave his memorable Gettysburg Address and left us with this thought to ponder as he stood looking over the battlefield of so much loss during the Civil War:

“the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion …”

Abraham Lincoln

These famous words of Lincoln point to what creates the legacy of our lives even though it is the words he uses that we often quote and recall. We recall his words but maybe it is because they depicted his life as a man who lived his words and used words to convey his deepest beliefs. Is my life like that? Is yours?

So often we are shouting what we say we believe in the open forum today but if someone saw us on another day would those beliefs be evident? That should be the case, should it not? Would not my life more than my words point to what is most important to me? Sometimes we cannot make the case we so desperately want to make for lack of this consistency, this evidence of integrity.

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When I think of people who have touched my life in some way and are no longer here, I become aware I recall fewer of the things they said to me and more of who they were. I recall how they made me feel when I was with them and if I found myself wanting to be more like them. I recall a quiet gentle spirit or an infectious smile that brightened so many days. I recall how they helped me believe in something bigger and more important than myself as well as their confidence I could be more than I was.

These are the people who helped shape my faith. I saw beyond any of their words what sustained them during some of the hardest and darkest challenges they faced. What I had heard them say about their faith was being challenged on every side and yet it did not waver in those most difficult moments. They were then more like the Christ they believed in even as He showed that repeatedly in his life on the earth when He was tested in the wilderness, when he hung out with the least of these out of love, and when He accepted the thief on the cross who cried out to Him in his final hours.

Our lives are not masterpieces of perfection but that doesn’t mean they cannot speak volumes of transformation. That stands out in the lyrics by Michael O’Brien written from a man whose life does not show perfection (not unlike many of us). Here are just a few to consider reflecting on what your life says or doesn’t:

“They say that a picture paints thousands of words 
And actions speak volumes where love is concerned 
I could preach you a sermon, hoping you would agree 
But in my silence would you see God in me? 

I’m gonna give you no arguments 
To try to make you believe 
Just evidence of the changes in me 

If I said nothing 
What would it say to you? 
If I testified by living the proof 
If I couldn’t speak the words 
I pray the truth would be heard 
What would my life say to you 
If I said nothing at all? 

I look in the mirror and it tells me the truth 
But you see my reflection in the things that I do 
If I’m a believer, then I’ll live my beliefs 
If I am a Christian, then Christ should be seen 

I’m gonna give you no arguments 
To try and make you believe 
Just evidence of the changes in me, yeah 

If I said nothing 
What would it say to you 
If I testified by living the proof 
If I couldn’t speak the words 
I pray the truth would be heard 
What would my life say to you 
If I said nothing 

Every eye will see His glorious face 
Every ear will hear His voice on that day 
He is Lord of all and forever will be 
But I pray that today you’ll see Him living in me, yeah 

If I said nothing 
What would it say? 

If I said nothing 
What would it say to you 
If I testified by living the proof 
If I couldn’t speak the words 
I pray the truth would be heard 
What would my life say to you 

If I said nothing 
What would it say to you 
If I testified by living the proof 
If I couldn’t speak the words 
I’d pray the truth would be heard 
What would my life say to you 

What would it say 
By living the proof 
If I couldn’t speak the words 
I pray the truth would be heard 
What would my life say to you 
If I said nothing at all? “

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Whatever Happened to Commitment?

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Commitment. Sometimes I wonder if the word has totally gone out of fashion or conversely, if we know what it means. The dictionary guides us in the word’s use – “the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.” and “an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.” Even a casual reading of the definitions suggests why it seems to have disappeared, but I wonder when all the pundits have finished debating what has happened to our current world if they miss this important attribute.

I grew up never having a question about what the word meant or looked like in action. My dad (born in November 1910) was the model of commitment in every area of his life. And his life circumstances didn’t make that easy. He was born the youngest of six on a family farm of 60 acres. By the time he was five years old his father died leaving the responsibility of the family to his older first-born brother. He watched as his brother at age 25 began to handle the farm and all that was needed for their mother, four sisters, and him. Everyone did his or her part to help. There was time for fun, but chores and helping out was understood to be everyone’s part.

But my dad’s father’s death wasn’t the only challenge the family faced. Economic times were never easy, and losses continued in various forms. Then his brother tragically fell from the barn roof and was killed when my dad was just 13 years old. He was enjoying school back then and looking forward to what high school might bring. Instead, he left school and followed the commitment of his brother and with the help of his uncles on neighboring farms, assumed the responsibility of farming to support his family while his sisters took jobs in the nearby town. It wasn’t an easy shift but years later I never heard my dad complain about those challenges or decisions.

How excited he was about this stand of corn in the field as a young teen. One could wonder what sustained him through such hard things like dreams set aside, childhood upended, and more. The answer would be in his faith. His family had always embraced faith as the value most vital to living life, but as I knew him as his daughter well into adulthood and knew his siblings as well, I could not help but notice that it was my dad’s faith that was the bright light in the family. It didn’t waver and stayed steady through the testing and the sacrifices he made (some chosen, and others required). He was selfless in gentle unassuming ways, generous in patience and serving.

My dad met my mother at church when she was just 13 and he was 19. They participated in activities there and in other farm gatherings. It was clear they cared deeply for each other, but he already had priorities. When she was old enough, he told her he would like to marry her, but he couldn’t take that step financially until he had money to buy a tractor to replace of the team of horses he used to farm. His family needed him to keep sustaining their survival with that and another job he took working at a brickyard nearby. And my mother understood. She knew what everyone else who knew my dad knew – his commitment was sure and true.

They married at 23 and 29 on an April spring day in 1939. The family needs meant my mother moved into the farmhouse with her mother-in-law and any unmarried sisters. Nothing about it was easy for her or my dad, but their commitment held. It held a year later in 1940 when they were looking forward to the birth of their first child and he died just 24 hours after he was born.

I was born three years later, and it was this heritage that was foundational to what I saw about commitment and faith through all the trials and losses that continued in their life together including the birth of a disabled son four years later. Serving, faith, and selfless devotion shaped their legacy and were hallmarks of their character that displayed commitment. That character was also marked by my dad’s dry subtle wit, a quiet voice, and a strong love of country, education, and principled values. He made sure that I had a college education though he had no idea how he could pay for it with his modest income. He gave me what he never was able to have himself and did so with joy versus envy or regret.

Sometimes the culture we live in now is referred to as the “me generation.” I didn’t coin that term, but it suggests what may be part of the clue about the erosion of commitment common now. If we are most interested in what we can get or achieve, our focus is less about sacrifice because it looks like we want to gain something from it. We are looking at what will benefit us, what pleases us, and how we can have the good life. And those aren’t bad things but point to a very different motive and mindset. It also raises questions about the role of faith in our lives that serves as the source of the value of commitment.

Commitment lives on if it is modeled by the lives we emulate whether they be ordinary men like my dad or those known by thousands of others. And commitment to One higher than ourselves, values that matter and withstand the test of time are what are needed by the collapsing world around us if it is going to survive. And that doesn’t come from a program or government or course in any educational institution. It comes from a heart transformed by the only One who can do such a miraculous thing.

It’s not about striving for perfection or even looking for it but adjusting our focus on what leaves a legacy that lives on into eternity.

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After…

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Say the word after and there may be a variety of impressions, experiences, and emotions that follow. It’s one of those words we meet early in childhood and sometimes connects with the word before that I wrote about a few days ago. You likely can think of many examples from those earliest memories. You likely heard that you could watch a favorite TV show after your homework or after you finished your chores. You may have heard you could have that treat your mouth was drooling for after you finished your vegetables or whatever else you were not so excited about eating.

There were other places you heard it often as well. There were things you wanted to do or get. Maybe it was a special bicycle, a BB gun, a special dollhouse, or one of those expensive dolls another friend had, and you heard one or both parents say, “After you’re older.” As a teenager you still were haunted by needing to wait for things until after your grades came up, after you got a job, or after you got your license. In all these cases, the word after brought with it anticipation and longing for some time ahead.

Your imagination was also impacted by stories that were read to you or later that you read yourself that ended with that wondrous phrase ‘happily ever after.’ Every girl longing for a prince to appear knows that one very well.

That hope for a prince to sweep us off our feet often got tucked away inside us and didn’t die away easily as we looked at outward appearances of those who might look like a prince. They influenced our choices on both sides of a choice so we either became more tentative looking for perfection or had blurry vision that nudged us to make choices and discover later this was not a prince at all and be surprised we missed that fact.

As we got older, we became aware that not all anticipation was positive. Sometimes (perhaps many times) after meant uncertainty. Somehow, we should have recognized that before because we never really know what after will bring our way because it hasn’t happened yet, and we are not in control of it (even if we have a certain amount of influence on it).

We make plans for a special event while knowing that we can’t guarantee that a storm will not upend the party planned for outdoors. We need a medical procedure and after learning all we can about it and listening to what the medical team tells us to expect after it is over, we miss some of what is said. Somehow we filter the most positive outcome because that is what we want or hope, but they cannot guarantee that outcome and when we have more pain, recovery takes longer, or creates yet another issue, we see the fickle nature of after.

The most adventurous of us long for certainty and one thing we cannot miss is that life is filled with uncertainty (even in areas where we think we have control). We recognize that more as we age but that doesn’t make it any easier. Dreams we had don’t work out quite the way we hoped whether in our relationships, our jobs, or our health. Curve balls keep coming. And we are more likely to recognize we have been looking forward a long time without realizing how much more time now is behind us than ahead of us.

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Those curious thoughts about what’s out there beyond this planet and all we know of living when we gazed at the stars from our backyards as we were growing up begin to take on a more serious set of reflections if they haven’t occurred previously. What happens when these bodies wear out and our lives come to an end. Is it really an end for us or is there something else we discover? Some of us have settled that when we were younger. We were taught or heard there was life after the one we were living and what we did or were on our way there mattered. Of course, there were other opinions, but moving further into adulthood means we need to navigate what we believe and what our hope is based on. Do we believe and accept none of this universe was by accident? Do we see ourselves as part of something bigger, a larger story than just our own that we have been adding to each day?

Life keeps us distracted by more than a few things and if we are fortunate, someone or something lets us in on how many minutes we can waste looking at others for our identity, comparing what we have to them, looking at the small stuff and never taking time to check out the interior world of our heart which is where real life matters most.

“In the end, we’re all looking through a keyhole at eternity as we try to figure out our lives today. Don’t be distracted by how different you are from everyone else. Our hearts were meant to beat together, not the same.

If you want to dazzle heaven, stop being distracted being everyone else. Go be you.”

Bob Goff

Yes, we are puzzling now about many things. The Apostle Paul gives an observation about that:

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

I Corinthians 12:13 (NIV)
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If we are honest, his words are truer than we take time to consider. Many things are blurry. If you accept and believe in a spiritual world, then you know that we are living in two worlds now – the one we can see and the one that is unseen. What we know about the unseen world leaves more blank spaces than we wish, but if we believe in the One who is the creator of both worlds then we can get glimpses of it in the last will and testament He left for us – the Bible. He gives us peeks into what it looks like in the unseen world, in eternity. For us who are limited by what we can see, hear, touch, and taste, that requires faith.

And you see, that makes all the difference. Our creator points to what is still being created now that Jesus talks about after He rises from the dead before ascending into heaven. He gives those early disciples and us a promise on which to place our faith and hope.

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

John 14:3 (NIV)

No, we don’t know what all that looks like except for the word pictures Jesus left us, but one thing that has evidence beyond the Bible and shows up in historical record of the time He spent on earth – his promises are true.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

Hebrews 13:8 (NKJV)

If we believe in Him, we can look at the after differently because we know He is waiting on us, planning for us, and that eternity is as real as any part of this physical world (even if you can’t see it right now).

“If you think of your life as a book that’s being written, start taking better notes. It will become a masterpiece one sentence at a time.”

Bob Goff
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