Thursday, March 8, 2018

Building Relationships

Camera Goes on Japanese Sushi Conveyor Belt

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15

I came across this video taken by a go pro camera and I am not sure if I should be amused or depressed. The camera rode on a conveyer belt in a sushi restaurant in Japan and filmed a few seconds of the lives of about 40 people. (Warning: obscene gesture.)

I was struck by how many people were sitting, presumably with friends, but with their attention on their phones or tablets. I watched a second time and counted. It turns out that nearly 40% of the people caught on film were sitting with humans but spending time on devices.

Now I will admit that I spend plenty of time on the computer and I refuse to put any game apps on my smartphone because I know I will not have the necessary self-discipline to stay away. But, these people are at a restaurant – with friends or family! They are not sitting on a train, or waiting in a line. They are eating out which typically is done for entertainment – or at least human engagement.

How important are our screens to us? Way too important if you ask me.

Every aspect of social media and other apps are specifically designed to draw us in and keep us there. The more time we spend on our devices the more ads we see and that generate revenue. These apps have a vested interest in keeping us absorbed and we apparently have little or no desire to resist. I am remembering that in American Sign Language the concept of temptation is signed by reaching one hand around the other to tap on your elbow. Social media and other enticements on our phones certainly give a constant tap of encouragement to capture our attention.

It would seem to me that spending too much time on your phone is not the biggest problem.  Instead, it is what we are not doing while our devices have our brains held captive.

We aren’t engaged in our world. We aren’t sharing God’s love in the form of interacting with those around us. We aren’t showing empathy, helping others, or even thinking of other people while we are playing a game or checking a social media account. We are totally absorbed in being disengaged.

My work with resilience has shown me that our relationships with each other -- the good, the bad, and the ugly -- are important to our ability to survive and thrive. We depend on each other and benefit from each other, even when we think we are doing it alone. 

God created us to be in fellowship with Him and with each other.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:1-4

God gave us each other. It is His desire for us to care for each other, cry, laugh, believe, and do His work with each other. We cannot accomplish any of this without God. We also cannot accomplish any of this without a relationship with each other.

We don’t have relationships simply because we are related, live close, work, or worship together. We have relationships because we spend time together and because our shared experiences build a strong bond. We need to have many kinds of experiences, good experiences, bad experience, deep experiences and frequent ones. We need to invest in relationships so the relationship is strong when it is needed.

Consider Job and his friends:

And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. Job 2:13

We can argue that Job’s friends did him little good with their words, but their presence in his suffering was important. They were there with him even if they could do nothing to relieve his pain and despair. This friendship was not forged over social media or by neglect. It was formed by many interactions over time and each of these interactions was present in this event.

God’s attention for us is all-encompassing and it is constant. He always knows our needs and often meets them before we realize we are in want. His relationship with us is built on the love of a perfect Father willing to sacrifice His Son for a relationship with his rebellious children. Nothing tempts Him away from us.

While we cannot form perfect relationships with each other, we can allow God's love for us to direct our relationships with others. Such friendships take work, but they can be entertaining along the way. It is good to remember that even when we struggle in relationships the process of forgiveness can make the bond even stronger.

God will bless our relationships with the people He places in our lives. God sees everything in our lives as having potential to bring us closer to Him.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


For years now I have been trying to make a living through contract work and I fear I am not up to the task. It is not because I don’t have the skills, but rather because I don’t have the thick skin necessary to survive. 

I have been blessed to work with many good people. I have met many servants of God who labor to put on great conferences. I treasure the words of encouragement from audience members, my students, and from those who have read my work. I try to focus on this evidence that God has a plan for the work He sets before me and that He brings that plan to fulfillment.

Yet, the sinner in me, the part of me that doubts, has not seemed to develop that necessary thick skin. I cannot count the number of institutions that have treated me poorly. I have had contracts cancelled without warning, contracted work changed in mid-stream, expectations of free work, contracts that are all law and no grace, and a horrible lack of any kind of communication that seems to come with the expectation that I can read minds. These actions often come after I am told that my work is valued.

A contract worker is easy to blame, easy to gossip about, and easy to dismiss because there will be no awkward moments in the break room. Besides we cannot be very good at what we do if we are willing to do it for so little pay. We are granted little worth. 

Yet, what is my worth in this world? Why do I tie it to compensation, accomplishments, or the way I am treated? 

A few weeks ago we sang a beautiful song in church called “My Worth is Not in What I Own.”  I have the video bookmarked and I listen to the song nearly every day. Like a child asking for the same book to be read over and over, again, I have more to learn.
(c) 2014 Getty Music Publishing and Make Way Music

My worth is not in what I own; my place in this world does not matter.
My worth is not in what I accomplish; anything I accomplish is God’s work, not mine.

My worth is not in who I vote for; my identity is found in my God-given faith.

My worth is not in my social media posts; my actions speak louder than my words and only God can cause a heart to change.

My worth is not in how I am treated; my sins tell me what treatment I deserve.

Ash Wednesday is a good day for me to set aside my pouting and my doubt. Here, God teaches me an important lesson about my worth. He reminds me that I am not worthy of the love He showers on me. I am not worthy of what Christ has done for me. I do not need a thick skin; I need a tender heart that seeks God’s mercy. 

Two wonders here that I confess
My worth and my unworthiness
My value fixed - my ransom paid
At the cross

And He does indeed shower me with mercy. Christ has taken on my unworthiness and replaced it with healing and peace.

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed, Isaiah 53:3-5

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

More than a Rescue

So this happened.

My mom and my sister ended up on the local nightly news.

No danger of it being a perp walk, but it was documenting a walk of a different kind.

Several months ago, my mom fell. She is an 83 year old with fairly severe osteoporosis and her doctor determined the spinal fracture would not likely heal. He predicted she would go to rehab and not return to her assisted living facility. He was, in essence, sentencing her to a wheelchair.

My sister stepped out of her caregiver role and took on the role of advocate. She works at a hospital and spoke with doctors there to be sure that the diagnosis was correct.

Turns out it wasn’t. A new test was performed, a new surgical procedure was scheduled and the result is my mom’s pain is gone and she is once again able to walk. The more she moves, the longer she is likely to live. She has been given a new lease on life. She does not have a bad primary care doctor; he just didn’t have any other options for her. She needed an advocate who could search for that option.

I am happy to say that I am one older sister who now must admit she is glad her little sister has stubborn tenacity.

As I am reading through the Old Testament I am reminded of the stubborn tenacity that God has for us. Just like the Israelites wandering in the desert, I walk through daily miracles of modern-day-manna and still turn to God with a whining tone that betrays a lack of trust.

In spite of this, God displays a stubborn tenacity to advocate for me. He cares for me. He loves me unconditionally. He creates a plan for my life and for my salvation that is more than what I can imagine, more than what I can hope for, and certainly more than what I deserve.

My mother’s spinal procedure rescued her from pain, but it did more than that. It also restored her ability to walk which likely lengthened her life.

God is our healer, but He is so much more than that. The God who advocates for us sees beyond the need to rescue and sees our desperate need for redemption.

Think of God’s blessings to the Israelites even after their repeated rebellion:

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you: the LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26

God’s desire is to both rescue us from the slavery of our sin and to redeem us as His own children:

You have led in your steadfast love the people you have redeemed: You have guided them by Your strength to Your holy abode. Exodus 15:13

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


A sojourner is a traveler; one who typically stays a short while. However, sometimes the journey, or the stay, takes on a life of its own.

In my Bible reading I have been wandering through Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.  I marvel at how the Children of Israel, chosen as God’s people, tried in so many ways to wander away from God, but our faithful God continually brought them back.  Eventually these sojourners  were delivered to the Promised Land.

This weekend I heard a wonderful, miraculous story about a people brought through two hurricanes to a different kind of Promised Land they call Promise Lane. See their story here.

It started with an hour long drive to the airport from the hotel where I was a speaker for a conference of early childhood teachers each with a ministry of their own. I asked my driver what was his second job. He told me he did video ministry for a church called Smoking for Jesus Ministry.

He got my attention and I asked for more . . .

The church began in New Orleans, in the 9th ward. When Hurricane Katrina threatened, 50 families from this group evacuated to a camp in Texas only to be evacuated again due to Hurricane Rita three weeks later. The end of their sojourn brought them to Marble Falls, Texas and now to a former camp turned ministry and neighborhood.

Yes, you read that right, over 150 people, almost an entire congregation, moved more than 500 miles away and set up camp to do the work God set before them. 

I asked if my story teller missed New Orleans, but then I realized most of his friends and family came with him. He does miss the food, but the ministry runs a New Orleans’ style restaurant.

Think of the faith with which God has blessed these folks. Think of His love and protection for them – not only as individuals, but for their families, and their church family.

Thank you, Jesus.

I am reminded of my ancestors, several generations back; sojourners of a different sort, who boarded two boats headed from the Saxony area of Germany to St. Louis, Missouri. One boat was lost at sea taking many of my relatives with it, but a several-greats grandfather survived, built a life, a family, and a church in his new homeland.

Thank you, Jesus.

There are more than a few ways to be sojourners. Sometimes God asks us to pack up and move – quickly. Sometimes we come back, but more often than not we are expected to rebuild a new life.

Sometimes our sojourn is not a physical move. Instead, it is a sojourn of ministry. Perhaps one door closes and another opens. Grief causes us to linger at the closed door and ignore the new one. It is only by God’s urging that He reminds us He is present in each place and throughout the transition between places.  When we sojourn in this way our task is the same. We must set up camp and proceed with the work God sets before us.

When the Children of Israel were about to enter the Promised Land, a foreigner named Balaam was hired to curse them. God’s people were immigrants, soon to be inhabitants and those who lived in the area were dead set against being conquered. 

But, Balaam could not curse God’s chosen people. Instead, on God’s instruction, he blessed them and prophesied

A star shall come out of Jacob. Numbers 24:17

No matter the nature of our sojourn, no matter where our faith takes us, Jesus, the star of Jacob, is always with us. He is woven in and out of our work and our journey.

Thursday, December 21, 2017


One of the little “joys” brought to us by the election of 2016 is the term “fake news.” In its beginning it was applied to ridiculous confabulations that were repeated over and over in hopes that people would believe them. During the course of 2017 the definition of “fake news” has morphed into anything any media outlet says that an individual doesn’t want to believe. It is interesting how it started as a tool to direct people away from the truth and changed into a tool that often denies the truth. When it comes to politicians and the media (and that goes for both sides!) it certainly raises the question: “What news can we believe?”

The daily behaviors of politicians and sketchy news outlets that declare facts to be lies and lies to be facts leave us with our hearts and minds craving truth. In these times we should remind ourselves that we cannot find truth in a sinful world and we cannot find safety, or comfort, in the so-called truth - or politics - of this world.

We know Zechariah struggled to believe the news of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, perhaps he thought it was fake news. Thankfully, both Mary and Joseph knew God’s messenger came to share, not fake news, but the Good News. 

Jesus’ birth was a gift that brought with it many other blessings. He is the fulfillment of prophesies. His death and resurrection brought forgiveness and salvation. His presence among us completes the promise of hope. We believe because of the precious gift of faith and God’s Word.

Today, as always, we find truth wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. We find truth hanging from the cross and emerging from the grave. And especially when fellow Christians disappoint us, we remember we find truth in God alone. 

This we can believe!