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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Due Diligence


On any given day I can call my parents and quickly be put to shame. Lest you think my mom and dad are some kind of sicko seniors with a penchant for shaming their adult children, let me explain.

Granted I'm a freelance writer who works from home and no one is here to look over my shoulder and make sure I'm doing my work, but I do manage to be pretty industrious most days. I consider it a good day when I post on my blog, get some research for an article done, write yet another one, and prepare for my weekly women's Bible study, especially if I manage to make a dozen productive trips back and forth to the laundry room during the day and prepare something good for my family to eat for dinner. Usually those days also include some "favor" for my daughter, dusting or sweeping, and a trip to the grocery store. At the end of the day I'm only occasionally exhausted, but most days I feel like I did the work the Lord prepared for me.

But even with all that going on, I can call my 70-something-year-old parents and suddenly feel like a lazy bum when I find out all they managed to accomplish in their day.


Both educators, my parents retired a number of years ago, but you'd never know it. Not only do they keep an immaculate house between the two of them, but they serve funeral meals at their church, volunteer for Hospice, go on mission trips with their church and others, exercise regularly, do a crossword puzzle every day, visit people in nursing homes and hospitals regularly, and serve in any other way they possibly can.

I always hesitate to ask that probing question, "So, what have you guys done today?" because I know my mom's response will put me to shame. Her response often includes such industrious tasks as taking all the window screens down and scrubbing them clean or my dad getting up on a ladder and cleaning out the gutters or my mom pruning, feeding, spraying, and tending to her roses or my dad hauling the garbage off to the dump or the two of them cleaning the carpets or some other ridiculously huge job that I've never or rarely done.

I've often told people that one of the best things my parents handed down to my brother and me is a strong work ethic. I'm not sure how successful they were at teaching us to put in an honest day's work, but if we didn't learn that from them it's no fault of their own. They modeled industriousness to us from day one.

My parents both earned advanced degrees so that their educator salaries would be enough to take care of a family of four. When my dad was still a nine-month classroom teacher, he painted houses during the summers to earn extra money. Not only did they do their due diligence at work, but they often went beyond what was expected. I know for a fact that both of my parents were model employees, hard-working educators, and the kind of folks who got to work early and left for home late.

My mom sewed my clothes. My dad kept our cars running. Both of my parents worked around the house and in the yard most all of Saturdays. Sure, they enlisted me and my brother to help and taught us to contribute, but we never worked while they sat and watched. They were always setting the pace.



We always had a garden and I'm not talking about the little patio variety that many of us modern families proudly tout as a great accomplishment. My parents planted rows of beans, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, okra, and butter beans. I know because I spent my share of time in that field and snapping those beans! But truthfully, they did 98% of the work (I'm giving me and my brother a generous 1% credit each.) Like many folks of their generation, my parents shared the produce of their hard labor, but they also canned and froze much of it. No small task. My mom may have been off from work during the summers, but she worked hard to put away food for her family and to catch up on big cleaning projects during that time.

Today I read:

The lazy man does not roast 
what he took in hunting, 
but diligence is man's precious possession.
(Proverbs 12:27)

Besides convicting me of the fact that most every week I have to throw away some fresh produce I ambitiously bought to cook for my family but never got around to, this scripture also reminded me of my parents' diligence. Indeed, their diligent work ethic proved to be a precious possession for our family, one they have hopefully managed to instill at least a portion of in me and my brother.

From them I have learned:
  • that I am responsible for my own welfare (I'm not excluding God from the process, just the government.)
  • that my work doesn't end with providing for my own family, but includes meeting the needs of others
  • that everyone in the family needs to pitch in and do their share
  • that the rewards of a hard day's work amount to more than a paycheck, but include personal satisfaction of a job well done
  • that a good attitude goes a long way towards getting your work done faster and better
  • and that as long as we are on this earth, God has work for us to do.

I'm pleased as punch that my parents have enjoyed (and will still continue to enjoy, God willing) a long and enjoyable retirement. They've been healthy and had the means and freedom to travel a little, play some golf, and enjoy the fruits of their labor. But I'm even prouder of the fact that my parents continue to this day to contribute to their family, their church, their friends, and the needy and hurting. They work diligently every day to make a mark on their world. They continue to seek the work God has for them to do and to do it with willing hearts, capable hands, and vigor. They are my heroes.

I've tooted my parents' horn (because they'd never toot it themselves!). Now it's your turn. What impresses the socks off your feet about the folks who raised you? Brag away.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Who's the Boss?

So what's your take on authority? You for it? Or, as my Dad might occasionally say in his native Alabama tongue, "you agin' it?"

I've found that people generally fall into two camps on authority. We either respond well to it, or we bristle against it. We comply or we rebel. We accept or we protest. We obey or we refuse. We heed or ignore.

I've also found that people's response to authority as adults usually lines up pretty well with how they were raised. Maybe you were raised in one of those "modern" families where everyone gets a vote, everything is up for negotiations, and nothing is set in stone.

I didn't.

In my home of origin, when my parents said I had to fold all the clothes before I could go to a friends house, that meant I had to fold and put away all clothes before I walked out the door. When my parents asked me to vacuum the house, I knew I had to vacuum every room that had carpeting. And when they told me I needed to practice my piano before I left for school in the morning, I did it. Now that I think about it, I could have gotten out of piano practice and school with one swoop of disobedience. But, alas, I knew better.

My parents were in charge. I wasn't.

I think that's why I'm really pretty responsive to authority in my life even now as an adult. I generally (and I only use that word "generally" because I can't claim to be perfect; but my compliance is pretty dead on) drive within the speed limit, respectfully meet deadlines set by my editors, comply with my editors' edits, and throw my trash in the receptacle designated for trash. I'm a rules follower and I hate to get called down for using my cell phone when I'm not supposed to, getting in the wrong line at the grocery store or sitting in a seat designated for someone else.

You might think I'm just a scaredy cat or a goody two shoes or a perfectionist. I don't think I qualify for any of those dubious titles. I think I was simply raised to respect authority.

And the greatest benefit of that upbringing is not that I avoid punishment or embarrassment. It's not even that I'm a responsible citizen or a model employee.

The greatest benefit is that I find it very easy to respect God's authority.

This morning I read in Luke 4:31-44 that when Jesus went to Capernaum in the beginning of His ministry in Galilee, the people were drawn to His...

handsome appearance...No.

charisma...No.

wisdom...No.

gentleness...No.

pretty smile...No.

authority...Bingo!

And they were astonished at His teaching,
for His word was with authority.
(Luke 4:32)

Then they were all amazed and 
spoke among themselves, saying,
"What a word this is!
For with authority and power
He commands the unclean spirits,
and they come out."
(Luke 4:36)

And He, rebuking them,
did not allow them to speak,
for they knew that He was the Christ.
(Luke 4:41)

And the crowd sought Him
and came to Him, and
tried to keep Him from leaving them,
but He said to them,
"I must preach the kingdom of God
to the other cities also,
because for this purpose I have been sent."
(Luke 4:42b-43)

Jesus spoke with authority. He taught with authority. He had authority over the spirit world. And He made decisions with authority.

And at first, this authority really resonated with people.  They liked a man who knew what He was talking about and spoke like He meant it. 

But soon that all changed.

You see, Jesus' teachings weren't that controversial to begin with. But as time went on and it became clear that He was teaching with authority, people began to realize that His authority required obedience, compliance, submission, repentance, change. Ugh.

And when I read my Bible or hear a scriptural sermon, I hear that same demand for respect of Jesus' authority. I can't just cuddle up to Him and admire Him for His love, His grace, and His gentleness, but not submit to His authority.

I can't shout "preach on!" but then just get up on "go on." I have to yield to His instruction.

I started where I did with this blog post because besides seeing that we all need to give Jesus the respect He's due, I wanted to highlight the importance of raising our children with an ingrained respect for authority. It's important, crucial that we teach our children to respect authority from an early age. Not only so they'll obey us, but so they'll respect the authorities God places in their lives as they grow up -- teachers, coaches, bosses. And eventually, when the time is right, they'll also submit to the authority of Jesus Christ in their lives.

By the way, those same children are watching you and me to see how we respond to authority. They'll take their cue from us, undoubtedly.

So I ask you, "Who's the boss?"

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Casualties in the Victory?

I tend to think of victory as surviving unscathed, walking away with a trophy and energy left over, or remaining standing when all else have fallen. But evidently God has a different idea of victory.

I noticed today as I was reading in Deuteronomy 20 that while God promised His people victory over their enemies, He didn't promise them no casualties. Listen up:

"When you go out to battle against your enemies, 
and see horses and chariots and people
more numerous than you,
do not be afraid of them;
for the Lord your God is with you,
who brought you up from the land of Egypt.
So it shall be,
when you are on the verge of battle,
that the priest shall approach
and speak to the people.
And he shall say to them,
'Hear, O Israel:
Today you are on the verge of battle with your enemies.
Do not let your heart faint,
do not be afraid,
and do not tremble or be terrified
because of them;
for the Lord your God is He who goes with you,
to fight for you against your enemies,
to save you.
(Deuteronomy 20:1-4)

Sounds good to me. Victory is assured. No need to fear; God is there to fight the battle for them, to save them from their enemies. But then...

Then the officers shall speak to the people,
saying: 'What man is there
who has built a new house 
and has not dedicated it?
Let him go and return to his house,
lest he die in the battle and another man dedicate it.
Also what man is there
who has planted a vineyard and has not eaten of it?
Let him go and return to his house,
lest he die in the battle and another man eat of it.
(Deuteronomy  20:5-6)

Can you believe that? God, via Moses, is basically guaranteeing that there will be casualties in this victorious battle! Ouch!

When God promises us victory He doesn't guarantee we will emerge without any wounds or battle scars. There may be a price to be paid for victory. When we fight for our marriage, battle for our family, take a stand for what is right, or take up the banner of Christ in the work place, there may be casualties in the process.

I think that's a little difficult for most of us Christians to wrap our brains around. We tend to think that when Christ calls us "onward Christian soldiers" that we'll be fighting with rubber swords or pillows. And while our enemy is not flesh and blood, but the spirits and principalities of this world, the wounds are not always of a spiritual nature. Sometimes there are hurt feelings, wounded pride, tongue lashings that cut with razor sharp penetration, and defections. All quite painful.

I don't know about you, but I don't like this suggestion. The premise that we may ultimately be victorious, but in the process suffer casualties. But I can trust my Commander. He is not only a mighty warrior; He is the lover of my soul. He is good. He is just. He is trustworthy.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Healthy Choices For My Mouth

 
 I've been trying to eat a little more healthily lately. It's not much fun, but the results are good. It means I really have to think about what I'm going to order at some of the places my family eats regularly occasionally.

At Wendy's I've started eating a large chili (surprisingly good for you...in comparison) and a small side salad instead of the bacon junior cheese burger and fries I had been eating. At Chipotle I no longer get a tortilla (huge sacrifice!!!) but get a salad instead. And tonight when I take my daughter to Chick-Fil-A (after her dentist appointment in Tucson) I'll resort to the grilled chicken sandwich with a fruit cup (joy...) instead of the original chicken sandwich and waffle fries.


This is a pure act of the will.

I am not having fun yet, in case you wondered. However, I'm liking the results. I've lost a few pounds and my clothes are already fitting better. I sleep better, have more energy, and I might even get a better report at the dentist when I visit there next month.

Eating well has its benefits. But Jesus said that it's not so much what goes into a person's mouth that defiles them as what comes out. Obviously He wasn't talking about your waistline or your weight. But He was talking about health.

In fact Solomon referred to the healthiness of what comes out of our mouth way back in Proverbs 12:18.

There is one who speaks like
the piercings of a sword,
But the tongue of the wise
promotes health.
(Proverbs 12:18)

It's a whole lot easier to just grab whatever I feel like eating at the moment and gobble it down, only to worry about the consequences later. And while those consequences do come around to bite me eventually (usually in my hips or, lately, my upper gastrointestinal tract), at the time those deliciously fattening morsels just taste good and go down smoothly. At the time, I'm not thinking about health, I'm just eating what feels good.

The same thing happens, I've noticed, with what comes out of my mouth. I have a tendency, if I'm not really working at it, to just speak whatever feels good rolling off of my tongue. Like the scriptures says, I may speak something sarcastic, biting, or bitter that pierces my hearer like a razor sharp sword. Or I may candy-coat a snide comment as a piece of flattery that my audience only realizes as a jab once they've swallowed it whole. Or I may invite some friends over and gather around the table for a juicy piece of gossip. At the time that gossip tastes like a sweet and decadent dessert we've all got a fork in, but later it feels like a piece of lead in my gut.

True to the scripture, our natural tendency is to speak words that hurt, wound, and even kill. It takes effort and deliberation and intention to speak in a way that is healthy. 

In order to eat healthily, I'm analyzing every food I'm presented based on levels of protein, fat, fiber, and carbohydrates. I weigh the good against the bad, consider the costs, and try to choose the healthiest option that will also satisfy.

When we choose our words, we need to consider the contents as well. We need to look for the positive:
  • grace (Ephesians 4:29)
  • truth (Proverbs 23:16)
  • wisdom (Proverbs 12:18)
  • discretion (Proverbs 15:28)
  • encouragement (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
  • love and honor (Romans 12:10)
And we need to steer clear of those ingredients that ultimately sicken and destroy:
  • slander (Ephesians 4:31)
  • gossip (Proverbs 20:19)
  • complaining (Philippians 2:14)
  • lies (Proverbs 12:19)
  • harm (Psalm 52:2-4)
  • cursing and bitterness (Romans 3:13-17)
I've not really earned the right to preach to you about healthy eating. I've been doing it all of four weeks and I've messed up more than a few times already. It's hard to make healthy choices when there are so many tempting choices out there. And it's even harder to break old habits.

I think choosing to speak healthy words is just as hard, if not harder. I'm no expert here either, but I do recognize the gravity of the situation. I recognize that unhealthy words do even more damage than calorie laden and fattening foods. They truly can pierce, wound, hurt, and kill.

So it's worth it to think before we speak, choose our words carefully, base our words on scripture, and consider the effect of the words we might speak.

I'm working on this healthy eating thing. I'm also going to make a conscientious effort to speak words that are healthy too. Will you join me?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Speechless?

Have you ever been utterly speechless? Have you ever been in one of those situations where someone else has just said or done something so profoundly amazing that you feel the need deep inside to respond somehow, but you can't? There simply are no words.

Maybe you were amazed, thrilled, or blessed so much that you couldn't respond with words but only your facial expressions. Or maybe you were so angered, so frustrated, so hurt that you couldn't muster up any words at all. Then again, sometimes we're struck speechless out of sheer bewilderment. Thus was the case with Zach, or Zacharias to be exact.

Remember when Zacharias learned that he and his wife Elizabeth would become parents in their old age? The angel Gabriel left the throne room of God to meet Zacharias in the temple where he was offering up incense as a priest. There he gave him the amazing news that Elizabeth would conceive a child and that child would bring them and many others joy and gladness. That child, to be named John, would be a unique child and grow into an even more unique man. He would pave the way for the Christ by preaching repentance with measurable success, drawing the hearts of people back to where they could hear from God. And oh how the people needed to hear from God!

But when Zacharias, a man of God, a priest from the house of Levi, a servant in the temple of God who was offering incense and prayers for his people, heard this extraordinary prediction, he couldn't believe his ears. He asked for a sign and Gabriel would give him none.

Except he shut his mouth. God shut Zacharias' mouth, that is. From that day until the day baby John was circumcised and given his God-ordained name, Zacharias couldn't utter a word. Why? Ah, that's always an awfully good question to ask yourself as you read God's Word. Read the answer for yourself:

But behold, you will be mute
and not able to speak until
the day these things take place,
because you did not believe my words
which will be fulfilled in their own time.
(Luke 1:20)

Now at first glance it may appear that Zacharias' speechlessness is a sort of curse from God, a punishment. But the more I meditated on this passage and put that little nugget in context, I decided this wasn't a punishment so much as it was a protection.

You see, Zacharias, this man of God, this priest, this temple servant, had not believed the Word of the Lord. He didn't have any faith. And something really big was about to happen. God had big plans, the biggest He'd revealed in years. In fact, this is the first time anyone has heard from God or a messenger from God in over 400 years when He had last spoken through His prophet Malachi. 

Now God was speaking and His servant Zacharias wasn't listening. Instead of answering the way Mary and Joseph would respond to their messages from God in the following days with a hearty "Yes! I'm in!", Zacharias was sputtering doubt and demands of proof. If God couldn't trust Zacharias to exit that temple and shout with joy that God had spoken and was about to unwrap His plan for redemption that He had ordained before the foundation of the earth, then He would have to shut his mouth.

And He did.

And I suppose Zacharias had plenty of time to think about things and wrap his finite brain around this amazing message and event, because the next thing we hear out of Zacharias' mouth is just the opposite of skepticism.

And he asked for a writing tablet,
and wrote, saying,
"His name is John."
So they all marveled.
Immediately his mouth was opened 
and his tongue loosed,
and he spoke, praising God.
(Luke 1:63-64)

The next time Zacharias was allowed to speak, he let loose a slew of praises that had undoubtedly bottled up in his mouth all the way down to his heart over the preceding months of Elizabeth's pregnancy. No more doubt. No more skepticism. No more faithless questions. Just praises galore.

Today I'm praying that if anything is on the tip of my tongue that does not honor God, does not edify His people, does not convey truth, or does not demonstrate faith, then God would simply zip my lips shut. Not that I'd give the silent treatment, mind you. I'm not talking about using my lack of faith or zeal for the things of God as a manipulative tool to put others in their place. I'm talking about asking God to keep me from hindering His work in any way. 

And I'm praying that everything that comes out of my mouth, on the other hand, would honor God, praise His works, and bless His holy name.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Who Is He Rooting For?

I'm normally somewhat of a basketball widow during the NCAA Basketball Tournament. I go on about my business while my husband calls a time out on life so he can watch one college basketball game after another. I don't mind his obsession because it's harmless, lasts just a few weeks, and gives me fodder for favors I may need - like new shoes or a girls' night out.

But this year I've got me a team to root for so I'm right there on the couch with him.

No, the University of Georgia Bulldogs aren't still in the dance. That's my alma mater. I cheered them on in their one game against the University of Washington, whom I've come to loathe as a new PAC 10 fan, but alas they lost. But I had another team in the fight. Since my son attends the University of Arizona we've become ardent Wildcats. He attends all the home games and we watch them on television, spotting our son in the crowd most every time.

It's quite unusual for me, but I know every player's name, number and position. I know their strengths and their weaknesses. I feel like I'm their mama and they're my boys.

And guess what? Arizona surprised the nation by beating another team that our family usually roots for, University of Texas. So Arizona moves on into the Sweet Sixteen bracket later this week, tomorrow to be exact...6:00 I believe.

We're a people who like to pick a team, aren't we? We're also pretty fickle about our teams. Most of us have changed our alliances over the years at least once or twice, depending on what state we live in, where we go to school, where our kids go to school, who has our favorite coach, who's winning...

But we definitely pick teams. In fact, we begin to assume after a while that all of life is about picking teams and takings sides.

  • Are you a Cowboy or a Steeler?
  • A Democrat or Republican?
  • A liberal or a conservative?
  • A Catholic or a Protestant?
  • A stay-at-home mom or a working mom?
  • A David Archuletta fan or a David Cook fan? (I realize that's a little dated, but I doubt most of us have chosen who we're rooting for on American Idol yet this season.)
  • A Coke drinker or a Pepsi drinker?
Even on Facebook you have the option to Like something someone else says. And if you change you're mind, you can Unlike it. You get to have a vote, take a stand, speak your mind.

Choosing teams can be good, harmless fun.

It can also be dangerous and ungodly.

Have you ever asked God to choose teams? Have you ever asked Him to take up your cause and to defeat your enemies? Have you asked Him to let you win and to "sic" the other guy?

I have.

King David did too.

Today I read Psalm 37 in my daily Bible reading. It's one of those psalms where David cries out to God in his distress and asks God to vindicate him. I'll let you read the psalm on your own, if you wish, but here's a little sample:

This You have seen, O Lord;
Do not keep silence.
O Lord, do not be far from me.
Stir up Yourself, 
and awake to my vindication,
To my cause, My God and my Lord.
Vindicate me, O Lord my God,
according to Your righteousness;
And let them not rejoice over me.
(Psalm 37:22-24)

There's a whole lot more where that came from.

And I relate with David. I've got something going on in my life right now that caused me to shout in agreement with David as I read his words this morning. I was reading along and thinking, "That's right, God! Amen! You tell Him David!"

And then something happened in my spirit.

I realized that the very people I was wanting God to "get onto" were my brothers and sisters in Christ. More than that, they're His children. He loves them.

And that's when God reminded me that Jesus said to pray for those who persecute you and not to condemn them. That means I'm not supposed to pray for their judgment, their doom. I'm to pray for God to bless them.

Why would He ask me to do that? Because God is not a man that chooses sides. He is God. He is sovereign. He is for us.

If God is for us, who is against us?
Romans 8:31b

I added the italics because I wanted to remind you (and me) that God is not just for me. He is for us

That leaves the question, who is against us? And that takes us to Ephesians 6:12:

For our struggle is not against
flesh and blood,
but against the rulers,
against the powers,
against the world forces of this darkness,
against the spiritual forces of wickedness 
in the heavenly places.
(Ephesians 6:12)

People, whether they are Christians or not, are not my enemy. Satan is the accuser of the brethren, the deceiver, and the lion that seeks whom he may devour. He and his spiritual forces are the enemy. When I remember that, it changes my prayers.

My prayers are no longer "Sic'em God!" but "Lord, help us all!"

What about David's petitions? I think they were honest, gut-level feelings expressed by a man to his God. But I don't think God necessarily avenged David immediately just because David asked Him to. I have a feeling that God reminded him, like He reminded me, that He is not a God who chooses sides. He is a loving and patient and merciful God who works all things together for our good. Maybe He had some things to teach David through his ordeal. Maybe He was showing him that even when everyone else abandons you, God is still there.

So today I'm praying for my "enemies" all right. I'm honestly praying blessings for them. And I'm not praying for blessings out of spite, either. You know those prayers. The ones where you pray for them to be blessed so they'll "learn their lesson!" I don't think that's what Jesus meant for us to do either. I think He means for us to honestly pray for those who we are not currently jiving with so that we can once again, some day, some how, be on the same team.

Because He is for us.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Beware the Drama Queen...or King

Some people just have a flair for putting on a show.

And a whole lot of other people just love a good show.

As long as the show is on the stage or the silver screen, the two go together nicely.

But when the show is in the kitchen, in the boardroom, during the committee meeting, at a restaurant, in a conference, in the classroom, at church or anywhere else where no one has paid to see a performance, we have a problem.

The problem is that, like I said earlier, some people have a flair for putting on a show...even when they're off script.

And a whole lot of other people still love a good show, even when said performer has taken the show on the road to all the wrong places.

What's the problem with that, you might ask? The problem is that "a whole lot of people" still respond to the drama queen's performance as though she had just executed a finely crafted piece of art. They bow down with respect. They sing her praises. They "pay" whatever she's demanded: homage, respect, money, obedience, compliance, you name it. She gets that for which she put on such a persuasive show.

Or he does. I've known a lot of drama queens. But I've known a few drama kings too. I've noticed that drama queens tend to be, well, more dramatic. Outwardly so. While drama kings tend to be a little more...regal, if you will. Their air of dignity, distinction, and wisdom is what plays to their gullible audience. But it's a show all the same.

Wonder where I'm going with this biblically? I am supposed to be walking through the Bible after all. Well, take a front row seat and enjoy the show.

They led Jesus away to the high priest; 
and all the chief priests and the elders 
and the scribes gathered together. 

(The scene is set!)
Peter had followed Him at a distance,  
right into the courtyard of the high priest; 
and he was sitting with the officers 
and warming himself at the fire. 

Now the chief priests and the whole Council 
kept trying to obtain testimony against Jesus 
to put Him to death, 
and they were not finding any. 

(This is the point when drama tends to ensue.
There really is none, so some is created.)
 For many were giving false testimony against Him, 
but their testimony was not consistent.
Some stood up and began to give 
false testimony against Him, 
saying, "We heard Him say, 
'I will destroy this temple made with hands, 
and in three days I will build 
another made without hands.'"

Not even in this respect was 
their testimony consistent. 

(Better turn up the drama; 
the scene is not going according to plan!)

(Enter the "drama king!")

The high priest stood up and came forward 
and questioned Jesus, saying, "Do You not answer? 
What is it that these men 
are testifying against You?" 

(Jesus, on the other hand, is no drama king!
He keeps it real. Take note.)

But He kept silent and did not answer 
Again the high priest was questioning Him, 
and saying to Him, 
"Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?"
And Jesus said, "I am; and you shall see  
THE SON OF MAN SITTING 
AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, 
and COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN." 

(Here comes the dramatic climax!
I've added some italics just so you'll not miss it.)
Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, 
"What further need do we have of witnesses?
"You have heard the blasphemy
how does it seem to you?" 

(And here's the response from the gullible audience.)
And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.
Some began to spit at Him, 
and to blindfold Him, 
and to beat Him with their fists, 
and to say to Him, "Prophesy!" 
And the officers received Him with slaps in the face. 

(Mark 14:53-65)
Just because someone can put on a persuasive show doesn't mean they deserve our applause. In fact, shame on us for even giving them our attention.

"But, Kay, I haven't applauded the drama royalty in my life. In fact, I cringe at their dramatic performances."

But do you respond in other ways? You may not congratulate them on a magical performance, but do you pay them homage in other ways?

We all do at times.

Drama queens and kings, whatever their styles may be, can be pretty persuasive performers. Whether they rip their clothes and yell dramatically, as the high priest did in the real life drama from Mark 14, or they zip their lips and give you the silent treatment, these masters of the dramatic know how to get what they want from most any audience. 

Jesus never played the drama king. He spoke truth, never exaggeration. He held his tongue, but never gave the silent treatment. He stayed on script by saying and doing only what the Father told Him to say or do. He didn't try to draw a crowd, but His genuine love, His gentle demeanor, and His gracious behavior drew one legitimately. He sought no glory, but deferred any adoration He did receive to the Father. And He never manipulated His audience, still doesn't. He's the real thing.

So here's the lesson for us today.

Beware drama kings and queens. They do not deserve your respect, your homage, your adoration. Be careful who you give those precious things to. They're good at what they do. And it's very easy for us to be suckered into a good show. That's the magic of the stage, as they say. So close the curtains on any performances by drama kings or queens and keep your focus on the King of kings instead. And when you're wondering whose lead to follow, ask yourself this question. Is this just a grand performance by a thespian of sorts? Or is this person bearing the character traits of Christ?

Be careful who you follow, dear ones. It's really important. Not everyone deserves your allegiance, even if they put on a persuasive show.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Just So You Know...


I doubt anyone is really concerned about where I've been this week, but just in case some lone soul is scratching their head and stewing over my apparent disappearance from the blogging world, I thought I'd check in and let you know where I've been.

Absolutely nowhere.

I've been right here at my house glancing at the Internet ever so often, but having little to do with it. My two kids are on Spring Break this week, so I've taken a little break of my own. (I'm still reading my Bible every day...well I still have yet to read yesterday's selections, but I'll get caught up by mid-afternoon, I promise!) Other than a whirlwind shopping trip in Tucson to try to find my daughter a prom dress, we haven't really done much. But the break has been enjoyable all the same.

Mainly I've just enjoyed changing up my pace a little, focusing on my family, and staying away from "work." Not that the blog is really work, but it's still a part of my work day. So I just haven't made it a priority this week.

Every now and then we just have to shake things up a bit, huh? I know I do. I'm all for routine, but I need to skip it occasionally too. A little break seems to recharge me, help me appreciate what I have, and get re-focused.

So this week I've watched a little more mindless TV, taken longer walks, read a magazine or two, changed out my winter clothes for brighter spring ones, and played some table games. I also ate dinner all by myself on my back porch last night while the rest of my family ate at their favorite Mexican dive (not a favorite for me, but I think it's good for them to do some things without me, don't you?). It's been a good week to step back from the normal and just enjoy the change in weather, the potential of spring, and a little nesting.

When you change things up a bit, what do you do differently? Aside from taking a vacation and going somewhere, how do you take a little break from the normal pace? I'd love to know. And if anyone is still checking in here after my two day absence, I bet they'd love to know too!

Happy St. Patrick's Day all! And here's to Spring!

Monday, March 14, 2011

He Has Something to Say About It

Although I am committed to reading my Bible every day and I love the Word of God and the understanding it brings me, I have a difficult time actually opening it most every day. Shocked? Yeah, I am too.

You'd think that after all these years of finding the answers to life's questions in the Bible that I would make haste to open it every morning. You'd think that after all the comfort it's given me, all the wisdom I have found there, all the love I've seen written in its stories, that I would spend hours and hours in it each day. And you'd think that after all the times I've literally met God there deep within its pages, that you wouldn't be able to get me to put it down.

But for some reason it's as though there is some magnetic force that pulls me toward everything else and away from my Bible most mornings. I'm prone to flip on the TV, turn on my IPod, pick up a magazine, hop on the Internet, or even glance through the grocery store circulars before I pick up my Bible each morning. (I'm trusting you with a gut-level, honest confession. Please don't hate me for it!) Whether it's human nature, my flesh, defiance or just plain stubbornness, I don't just naturally gravitate toward my Bible first thing in the morning. (Actually, maybe all of those are the same thing.)

And yet, I read it every day. I choose to pick it up along with my 40-something reading glasses and I open it  to my daily bread. And I begin reading. And when I do, God meets me there without fail. I may have approached Him and His Word reluctantly, hesitantly, and out of obligation. But He meets me with a divine mixture of grace and enthusiasm and power and love. And within minutes that magnetic force that had previously pulled me to anything and everything else dissipates like melted krypton and I am delightfully free to enjoy my visit with my God.

I say all that to say that this morning I turned on the TV first. I fixed my cup of coffee and plopped down on the sofa to catch up on the disastrous earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I learned that thousands are expected to be dead. I found out that their nuclear plant had experienced a second explosion, scattering radiation in the atmosphere. And I saw the devastation that has left a haunted and saddened expression on millions of faces in that ripped and shredded country. I wondered about our American missionaries in Japan--are they safe, do they have what they need to minister to these hurting people, can they possibly get through to the hurt and wounded? And will the people be willing to listen to stories of our God--the one who they may blame for the earthquake? And that made me wonder, "God, what's going on here? Why one natural disaster after another? Are You still on Your throne? What's up?"

With questions still swirling around in my distracted brain, I finally turned off the television and opened my Bible that had been sitting beside me on the sofa. And this is what I read in today's reading:

And Jesus, answering them, began to say:...
"But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars,
do not be troubled; for such things must happen,
but the end is not yet.
For nation will rise against nation,
and kingdom against kingdom.
And there will be earthquakes in various places,
and there will be famines and troubles.
These are the beginnings of sorrows..."
Mark 13:5-8 (selected portions)

Good Morning America may have been reporting live from Japan this morning, but God was speaking to me straight from the throne room. He reminded me, once I finally picked up His Word, that He is still in control and I do not need to fear. Yes, I need to pray, I need to give, I need to share the gospel. But I do not need to "be troubled; for such things must happen."

And then I read in Psalms 33:18-19:

Behold, the eye of the Lord 
is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope in His mercy,
To deliver their soul from death,
And to keep them alive in famine.

It was as though He was reassuring me that His eye is on His people in Japan. He knows those who call upon His name and hope in His mercy. And He will deliver them. He may not deliver them from the disastrous effects of the earthquake or the tsunami, but He will deliver their souls from eternal death. In the rubble and the mayhem, He will not lose a single person that belongs to Him. Whatever the appearance of things may indicate, we can be assured that He is still a merciful, loving and good God. 

Once I opened God's Word, I found that He had something to say on the matter at hand. He always does.

Do you experience the same magnetic pull that I do? The one that pulls me toward anything and everything to keep me out of the Word of God? Are you, like me, more prone to turn on the news, the radio or the computer to hear a word about our world? Why are we like that? I don't know. But I do know that when I finally open my Bible each day, He has something to say. And what He has to say is so much more authoritative than anything George Stephanapolous or Glenn Beck or Oprah has to say. He is not taken by surprise with the events of the world. And, not only that, but, He has words of life for every situation we face.

Don't let that weird magnetic pull, whatever its source may be, keep you from opening God's Word today. Make a conscious decision to resist that kryptonite-like pull and sit down with your Bible today. He has something to say to you.


Friday, March 11, 2011

More Than Pretty Pork


Other than the fact that I used to ride the famed Pink Pig every Christmas, I've never been one to think pigs are all that cute. Like many other animals that spend most of their time wallowing in filth, we've romanticized them a bit. Think Wilbur. Think the three little ones who had such trouble with their houses. Think Porky.

But to me, a pig is all bacon...or sausage...or pork barbecue. I prefer a pig on the plate over a pig in the pen any day. It smells better, for one thing.

And that's why I'm reflecting on Proverbs 11:22 today:

As a ring of gold in a swine's snout,
So is a lovely woman who lacks discretion.
Proverbs 11:22 (NKJV)

The last thing I want is to be compared to a swine, ring of gold or no. A pig is a pig is a pig. You can dress it up--as people do--bathe it, pierce a hole in its snout and stick a pure gold ring in it, but it's still a piece of pork to me.

And that's why Proverbs 11:22 is so disconcerting.

Solomon isn't comparing just any clueless woman to a pig. He's talking about a "lovely woman"--one who appears pretty on the outside, has good manners, talks intelligently, and otherwise seems charming. But under all that loveliness this woman has one major flaw. She has no good sense.

Dainty damsel she may be, but she isn't very discerning. She doesn't think things through. She chooses her friends without thought to their character, their influence on her, their paths. She participates in any conversation she happens upon and says whatever comes to mind. She makes decisions on a whim, spends her money on whatever strikes her fancy, and speaks her mind without any filter.

She may appear lovely to many, but under the careful scrutiny of God's Word, this woman looks like a pig with a piercing. Ouch.

So as I'm putting on my makeup this morning and doing my hair so that I might appear lovely, it might do me well to look beyond the surface and examine my ways, too. As I'm dolling up my eyes I might want to consider if I look at things the way God does or the way man does. And as I'm putting a little pink on my cheeks I might consider if I still blush at the things that offend my holy God. When I gloss over my lips I might think about the words that I speak through those painted lips--do they encourage, honor, bless? Or do they gossip, judge, condemn or spread contention? And finally, as I put my own rings through the lobes of my ears (no nose piercings for me!) I might consider what I'm listening to today. Will I entertain gossip, profanity, slander, silliness? Or will I choose the things I listen to a little more carefully than that?

You know, some people really like "cute little pigs." And I've noticed that some people look at "lovely women who lack discretion" through pink glasses too. But the bottom line is that God doesn't. He sees them as decorated pork. May we see things as clearly today as well.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Oh, How Fickle We Are!

My friendship with Jesus has, unfortunately, taken the same path that so many of my relationships have taken. It's been up and down, all around. We've had our highs and our lows, our good days and our not so good ones. I've offered more than a good friend's share of apologies because I've made more than a good friend's share of offenses.

But I'm in good company. And there's hope for me yet.

Now they were on the road, 
going up to Jerusalem,
and Jesus was going before them;
and they were amazed.
And as they followed they were afraid.
(Mark 10:32a)

Did you notice that crazy shift in attitude? Amazed to afraid? What's that about?

And yet I've done the very same thing. 
  • I've gone from being excited about a new calling to shaking in my heels in fear. 
  • I've gone from being thrilled over an answer to prayer to being worried over the next hurdle. 
  • I've gone from worshiping in spirit and in truth to complaining that the air in the worship center was too hot. 
  • I've gone from anticipating blessings to fearing cursings. 
  • I've gone from loving the ministry to wanting out.
  • I've gone from being captivated with my Savior's love to doubting that it's enough.
  • I've gone from being amazed to being afraid.
All in a matter of minutes.

Ah, what a fickle friend I've been. I'm working on that though. I'm trying to grow in my faith. I'm trying to anchor my hope in Christ Jesus. And I'm immersing myself in His Word every day so my temperamental mood swings will grow further and further apart.

And I know that as fickle a friend as I have been to Jesus, He has stuck closer than a brother to me. As with the disciples, those twelve imperfect men who walked side by side with Him for three years, He's shown me patience and compassion and mercy.

Then He took the twelve aside again
and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him.
(Mark 10:32b)

Not even a full verse of the Bible transpires before Jesus acknowledges His twelve friends' fickle nature and pulls them aside for a little pow wow. He's been a few steps ahead of them and somehow, in His Godness, He has sensed their shifting attitude. He's felt them go from amazed and thrilled and excited about the prospects to fearful and hesitant and afraid. 

And He's not offended; He's compassionate. He's not ticked off; He's tuned in. He doesn't roll His eyes (I'm pretty sure...because in my house that's considered a sin :); but simply sighs and turns around and gathers His guys to Him. 

Thank you, Jesus, for all the times You've paused compassionately, turned around mercifully, and pulled me aside for a little reassurance.

We have a good and gentle Savior. One who leads us like a confident and compassionate shepherd; not one who drives us like a hurried and bullish cowboy. 

So if you're doubting today, if you somehow lost the excitement you had just yesterday, if the faith that beat in your heart so strong when you first got up off your knees has somehow dissipated, look to Jesus. He knows. And He is not offended. But He will put His gentle hands on your shoulders, look in your eyes with understanding, speak softly and tenderly, and remind you of who He is. 

We may be fickle, but He isn't.

Monday, March 7, 2011

He Had Breakfast Waiting


I woke up starving this morning. I've been trying to lose a little weight and because I ate a big lunch yesterday I didn't let myself eat much for dinner last night. So when I awoke, I was famished.

I've always been a big breakfast eater, but in recent months I've kind of lost my appetite in the mornings. Whereas I used to awaken and immediately begin thinking about what I'd eat for my morning meal, suddenly nothing sounded appetizing. Still I would eat because I knew breakfast is important. (My mother taught me well.)

But this morning I woke up hungry. And it felt good to have an appetite in the morning again.

But I also woke up hungry in my soul.

I've had some difficult days recently, nothing worth anyone fretting over, but enough to cause me to lose sleep and ache all over. That's how I tend to handle stress.

So this morning when I got out of bed, I was starving not just in my stomach, but in my soul.

In the past, this soul hunger has sent me looking for all sorts of "junk food" to quickly satisfy my needs. I've over eaten, over exercised, overly latched on to other people, and over demanded from my husband. I've worked hard, charged up my credit card, read romance novels insatiably, and engulfed myself in meaningless television shows -- all in a desperate desire to satisfy my hungry soul.

But I know better now.

I know that God alone can satisfy my hungry soul. And I also have learned to go to Him first with my hungers rather than turning to Him as a last resort.

This morning I desperately needed a word from the Lord. I needed for Him to feed my aching soul something soothing, meaty, and substantial. I needed comfort food, but I needed it to come from the King's table instead of a can of Campbell's soup or Kraft macaroni and cheese. I needed something that would stick to the ribs of my soul and carry me through the day, but I didn't want something unhealthy, addicting, or dangerous.

So I went to God in prayer and begged Him to feed me. I told Him I desperately needed a word from His Word.

But I also know that, in my starving state, I risked taking something from His Word greedily and misapplying it to my hunger-inducing situations. I didn't want to do that. That would be akin to gobbling down a banana without peeling it first. Or slurping down an egg without cooking it. God's Word is good for nourishing our soul, but I don't want to mishandle it in my eagerness to satisfy my flesh. I want to allow God to serve me appropriate portions that satisfy my soul.

And He did.

Praise God on high from here below! He doled out spoonful after spoonful of deliciously satisfying portions of His Word into my hungry soul. He fed me from the Bread of Life and nourished me for the day ahead.

I wrote several of these delicious scriptures in my Scripture Meditation and Memorization album and I will eat on them for several days, at least. I'll chew away like a cow chewing on its cud, and it will go down deep into my soul and take root. It will feed me today and for days to come.

God is so good to feed this hungry woman today. He can feed you too. Just ask. It's worth it dear friend. So worth it.

I won't expound on any particular scriptures from my reading today. To be real honest, it was all a little too personal. An intimate breakfast for two, if you will. But I'll tell you where He had me reading today.

Numbers 11:1-12:16
Psalm 31:11-18
Proverbs 11:12-14
Mark 10:1-31

One more thing. I just want to give a shout out for reading the Bible systematically. Folks, today was one of those days when, if I hadn't been reading the Bible through, I would have been tempted to hunt and search for specific types of scriptures to speak to me, to soothe me. In doing so I would probably have taken some verses out of context and used them inappropriately in order to feed my flesh. I just know that's my temptation. But because I was reading the Bible through, I simply ate what God had ordained for me to read today, March 7, 2011. I still had to be careful to eat His Word correctly, but I know I didn't just "raid the fridge" so to speak. He served me.

He had breakfast waiting.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Are You Paying Attention?

Some lines in the Bible crack me up. Case in point:

"Don't you know what I am talking about by now?" Jesus asked.
Mark 8:21

That is, that line cracks me up until it convicts the stew out of me. 
Jesus' disciples had been spending night and day with Him. They had watched Him heal people, cast out demons, feed multitudes, and preach truth. But they still didn't seem to understand His agenda. 

In this particular passage, Mark 8:12-23, the disciples had gotten in a boat with Jesus and happened to have only one loaf of bread to share amongst themselves. I suppose they were sitting in the boat and trying to figure out how to divvy it up when Jesus, obviously unconcerned about the lack of bread, said, "Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." Obviously, in hindsight, Jesus is talking to the disciples of a spiritual matter. He's telling them to watch out for the sin, the wickedness, and the deception of the spiritual leaders and their government. He's not talking about yeast or bread you eat or food at all. But here's the disciples' thoughts on the matter:

And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "It is because we have no bread."
Mark 8:16

At this point Jesus expresses His holy frustration with His chosen followers. Haven't they been paying attention? Don't they know that Jesus can supply more bread if they need it? Didn't He just feed groups of five thousand and four thousand in recent days? Didn't they even have bread left over? Are they that disengaged from what Jesus has been teaching, what He's been doing in their sight? Don't they know that He has come to give them a bread that is eternal, one that feeds their souls and not their stomachs?

And so He says, "How is it you don't understand?"

I've been in that boat with Jesus. I've spent time with Him, experienced His miracles, heard His teachings, and witnessed His power, and still somehow missed the heart of the matter.

I've seen Him provide for my family over and over and yet any new financial challenge sends me into a tailspin as though I have no hope.

I've felt Him convict me of an ill thought, a biting word, or a sarcastic attitude and yet later I entertain the very same thought again.

I've heard Him encourage me, teach me, point me in the right direction and yet just days later I'm living like I'm clueless once again.

And, I'm sad to say, I've found myself in the same classroom over and over. Jesus has shown me the way, drilled the truth into my head, tested me on the subject, and congratulated me over my victory. Then weeks or months later I find myself in a remedial course on the same subject because I seemingly forgot everything He taught me before.

How is it I don't understand?

I think at this point the disciples had a few handicaps:
  • They were still looking for a different kind of savior. They didn't know Jesus' purpose and they were stuck on their own agenda.
  • They hadn't honed their minds to think spiritually yet. They saw the physical, heard Jesus' parables, and had a hard time connecting the dots. They weren't thinking deeply enough.
  • They weren't taking it all in. Perhaps they were even taking a lot of what Jesus did for granted. They hadn't yet meditated on it, pondered it.
  • And obviously they didn't have the Holy Spirit to help them perceive truth. 
Well I have the Holy Spirit living within me, but I still miss a lot of what Jesus is trying to teach me for the very same reasons.
  • I get focused on my own agenda instead of God's. I forget that He is not so much concerned with my happiness, comfort, and success as He is about my becoming more Christlike. Huge difference.
  • I neglect to think. Period. I don't take the time to ask for wisdom, seek truth, or pray about things. Instead I go with the quick fix, the easy answer, the visibly obvious solution. I too don't think deeply enough.
  • And quite often I get so busy with the everyday stuff that I forget to spend time meditating on God's Word, contemplating what He's doing in my life, or noticing what He's doing around me. I take His goodness and provision for granted and don't thank Him for it or record it in my memory.
But I don't want to be clueless. I don't want to be a remedial student. I want to get it. I want to see God at work around me, grasp what He's teaching me, remember what He's shown me, walk consistently with Him, and even be able to pass it all on to others.

And so today I'm trying to sit up and take notice. I'm sitting at the front of the classroom so I won't be distracted by the stuff on the walls of my life. And I'm putting my thinking cap on. (Remember doing that in elementary school?)

I'm paying attention because I want to get it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

You Can Be His Favorite Too


I'm one of God's favorites.

No, I'm not bashful about that at all. Know why? Because I seek His favor every day.

In fact, there is nothing more important to me than God's favor. I need, desperately, to have His favor upon my life every single moment of every single day. I ask for it; I seek it; I claim; I relish it.

I used to think that asking for God's favor was sort of like bringing your teacher an apple every day, sitting in the front of the class, raising your hand to answer every question, and offering to clean the erasers at the end of the day -- somewhat forward, assuming, and obnoxious. I didn't think that I deserved God's favor and I surely had no right to expect it. I assumed that I was just one in a gazillion to God, deserving of no special treatment, certainly not worthy of catching His eye as a favorite.

But I changed my mind about that about a couple of years ago when my Sunday School class was studying the book of Ruth. In Ruth chapter 2 I learned that Ruth
  1. hoped to find favor in Boaz's field (2:2)
  2. was humbled to have found favor in Boaz's sight (2:10)
  3. and acknowledged to Boaz that he had treated her with favor (2:13), resulting in comfort and kindness.
As I read this portion of scripture, God impressed upon my heart that it is okay, even wise and good, to seek His favor as well. Not that I'm to seek His favor just so I can enjoy an extra dose of wealth or good health or ease, but that I desperately need His favor in order to thrive at all. Just like Ruth hoped to find favor in Boaz because she and her mother-in-law were completely dependent on the grace of others, I long for favor from my God because I can't live without it.

And so, ever since that day, I've made it a point to beg for God's favor, not only for myself, but for my family, my ministry, my church, and my country. And, like Ruth with Boaz, I've acknowledged to God that I am humbled when He does indeed show me His favor. I thank Him for His grace toward me. And I celebrate that favor!

The good news is that, unlike one particular teacher I had in high school who showed my brother a great deal of favor but seemed to disdain me, my God can afford to show favor to me, you, and anyone else who truly seeks His face, esteems His name, and walks in His ways. There may be a gazillion of us crying out to God for His favor, but He can turn His loving eyes upon us all, call us by our names, touch us where we crave His touch the most, hold us close, and bless us like crazy.

"For it is Thou who dost bless the righteous man, O Lord,
Thou dost surround him with favor as with a shield."
Psalm 5:12

"O Lord, by Thy favor Thou hast made 
my mountain to stand strong."
Psalm 30:7a

"And let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us;
and do confirm for us the work of our hands;
yes, confirm the work of our hands."
Psalm 90:17

"I entreated Thy favor with all my heart;
be gracious to me according to Thy promise."
Psalm 119:57

and conversely...

"Open shame belongs to us, O Lord,
to our kings, our princes, and our fathers,
because we have sinned against Thee...
yet we have not sought the favor of 
the Lord our God by 
turning from our iniquity
and giving attention to Thy truth.
Daniel 9:8,13

Seeking God's favor is not the same thing as asking for riches or begging to be spared discomfort. It's not the same as asking for anything else at all, now that I think about it. 

Seeking God's favor is more like a child seeking his parent's attention. "Look, Mommy! Look at me!" That child craves a simple glance, an acknowledgment of his existence. But he doesn't just want his mommy to pay attention; he knows his mom's attention is vital to his existence, his happiness, his success, his growth, and his well-being.  That craving is what causes that toddler to follow his mommy around the house as she moves from one room to another. He longs for her presence, her attention, the safety she affords, her voice and her love.

I don't seek God's favor because it's a nice addition to an already full life. I seek it because His grace upon my life is more precious than the air I breathe. And He gives me that, too.

I'm thankful today that I am His favorite. And by that I simply mean that I receive His gracious favor day after day. It's not an exclusive favoritism, or is it? For you do have to glean in the confines of His field to receive it - through obedience, a humble heart, a willing spirit, a devotion to His Word, and a certain, holy desperation. But there's room in that field for all. 

I'm His favorite. But you can be, too.