Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Worthy



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.
 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfFrJHuptUQ
(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

http://www.klkntv.com/category/190066/klkn-channel-8-video?&clipId=14107119&autostart=true



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

Sojourners

http://www.smokingforjesusministry.org/



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

Believe!






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!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Illusion of Truth



The Illusion of Truth Effect is an interesting phenomenon and one that is often used to manipulate us. We think we judge truth by objective, rational means. Our brains, however, have a different strategy. Because we need to judge information so frequently, our brains use several techniques to gauge the relative "truthiness" of what we hear or see.  Our brains use statistics, familiarity, and connection.

Children as young as infants give evidence of using statistics to learn. Infant brains keep track of how often they hear a sound in order to determine if that sound is important to language. We continue with this as we grow older, but we apply it to bigger chunks of language. The more often we hear something the more likely we are to determine it is true because our brains apply more importance to it. This works great while learning the phonemes of language; not so great when determining the accuracy of something posted on social media.

Once we have heard something many times, even if we haven’t paid close attention to it, we begin to see it as familiar. How many of us can sing commercial jingles from our childhood? We did not study these commercials, we simply heard them and now they are familiar. Chances are good we see the products that were represented by these jingles as positive, too.

The third technique used by our brains is connection. If what we hear is connected to something else we believe, then we are more likely to accept it as true even if at first glance it seems a bit unlikely. This is how political campaigns get us to believe horrible things about an opponent. The message going out is repeated in many forms and through many platforms and is just one step closer to evil than what you already accept because of your strong political beliefs. In some cases, even seeing hard evidence that something is NOT true does little to change a person’s mind. To our brains, what is repeated, familiar, and connected somehow must be true.

Look at the use of “fake news” from both sides of the political spectrum. Fake news begins as a twist of the truth but morphs into what we believe. Then it is easy to assume that anything that does not agree with our new belief must then be “fake news.” It is an insidious process and it is effective in bringing in the vote and keeping support.

But, if you are like me, this would not happen to you because we are rational beings who always check sources and information. Certainly it is good that we do, however, the effect of the Illusion of Truth Effect is to activate emotions that discourage us from thinking rationally. The trick is to activate fear or anger. These emotions urge a quick and impulsive response and they serve to make us even surer that the information is true.

The devil wants us to be afraid and angry. This makes us so much easier to work with. And not to say that politicians are devils (I don’t want to start my own fake news campaign) but when we are afraid or angry we are much easier for campaign messages to manipulate. 

Here is a good rule of thumb: if what you read makes you feel strong emotions be wary. 

Except for cute bunny videos. You can never go wrong with cute bunny videos.

For the word of the LORD is upright, and all His work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host. Psalm 33:4-6

As individuals, Christians are not exempt from the effects of truth illusion, but we do have an effective weapon. We know that real, solid, dependable, non-manipulating truth is found in God’s word. This is our first defense.

Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him!
For He spoke and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm.
The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He frustrates the plans of the peoples.
The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations.
Psalm 33:8-11

Our second defense is that we know we can give our fears and anger to God. He has control over our world, He has complete power, and He can overcome our emotional response and replace it with a healthy fear of Him. He does not tell us to ignore the things in the world that are wrong, the things that make us angry. He simply tells us He is in charge and will direct our righteous path.

Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in Him, because we trust in His holy name.
Let Your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in You. Psalm 33:20-22

Let God's steadfast love be what is familiar. It's a great place to be. It is safe; it is faithful; it is true.