Thursday, March 26, 2015

When Jesus calls, the right answer is Yes

My husband, Scott, and I both have vivid memories of the morning we met. We both remember some of the same logistical details, but our sentiments associated with the events are completely different. One glance was all it took for him to jump head first into the deep sea of love. My first sight of him left me just a bit curious about who he was and thinking he had a wonderful smile. I was more comfortable sitting on the edge, just dipping my toes in the water. 

As eager as he was, Scott remained patient yet persistent with me. We went on a few dates. A couple of months later he asked me to marry him. I was fond of him, but turned him down. We continued to date. He proposed again. The second time I couldn’t say no, but I also had a hard time saying yes. I knew I wanted to marry him and felt like his proposal was one of the best things to ever happen to me, but I like to analyze, plan, and prepare. I was uncomfortable handling a significant life decision on short notice. I thought I needed more time.

Scott’s spontaneous and all-in attitude eventually won me over. We met in September, were engaged by Christmas, and married the following June. Scott never had to ask himself the question about whether or not he wanted to marry me. He always knew his answer was yes. It took asking me twice and a good bit of Mexican food before I could finally say yes.  

James and John were all-in men too, only their yes was to Jesus. They were brothers who worked in their father Zebedee’s fishing business. Zebedee was likely proud of the strong, smart men they had become. At this point Zebedee might have begun to scale back on the physically demanding responsibilities, letting James and John do the hard work. He might have had retirement and grandchildren in his sights. Maybe he was ready to sit on the dock, dangle his feet in the water, and wave to his sons as they set sail for a long day of fishing on their own.  

One day, Jesus walked up to their boat and called James and John to follow him. Neither one thought twice or had any hesitation. They both said yes and left. Jesus was already convinced they were the right men for the task of disciple or else he wouldn’t have asked. He didn’t offer them much in the way of persuading words or explicit expectations. Just come, follow. No one had ever been a disciple of the earth-living, oxygen-breathing Son of God before. There was no precedent. Still, their answer was yes. 

They left Zebedee holding the empty nets of the family business. Although it’s not recorded in scripture, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Zebedee received some kind of call too. After all, God knew what it was like to have a son leave home on a mission unlike any other in all of eternity. Maybe Zebedee’s comfort came in knowing that his sons were not leaving empty handed. They were taking with them everything he had taught them to be, the kind of men Jesus wanted as disciples. The kind of men who say yes to Jesus.

The story is told in only two verses of Matthew Chapter 4. It’s a short, beautiful story that inspires me to want to be more like that, more ready to say yes the moment I’m asked. What if they had been more like me?  What if they had wanted to ponder and plan first?  What if they had said no? Oh, what they would have missed!

When they dropped their nets and followed Jesus, they didn’t know they would later see him transfigured before their eyes. They didn’t know they would hear the voice of God telling them, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). John had no idea he would find himself as the only disciple at the foot of the cross at Jesus’ crucifixion. He also didn’t know he would receive a revelation of future events that would become the culmination of the Bible as we know it. 

Don’t miss it. When Jesus calls, the right answer is always yes. Your all-in, absolutely yes response can win other people over. Just ask my husband. 

This was originally posted March 15, 2015 on The Press and Standard's website:

Don't Be Afraid, Just Believe

My college roommate, Lynne, celebrated her birthday last week. I couldn’t come up with a gift to send her that didn’t seem trivial, silly, or pointless so I finally decided on just a card with a heartfelt sentiment written in it. It took a bit of going back and forth to find a card that was appropriate. I finally settled on one that didn’t scream Happy Birthday but it was all fancy and glittery. It had a portion of a scripture verse dye cut on the front. The verse was Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” 

One of the earliest memories I have of Lynne as my roommate is that she was disciplined about her skin care and her Bible reading. She would often combine the two, lathering up her face with a pore-reducing cream and then sit cross-legged on her bed to read her Bible while the cream dried into a tight mask and worked its magic on her skin. She took the time to tend to those things and the result was a beautiful Lynne, inside and out.

Lynne had thick blonde hair back then and I was always amazed at her prowess with a blow dryer. She could have her hair dried and styled in just a couple of minutes and look good all day. Today, her hair is cropped close to her head. She has been off and on chemotherapy now since November 2012. 

Cancer is not beautiful. It is ugly and painful and hurts not only the one inflicted, but almost everyone around them as well. Lynne has managed, although not necessarily easily, to find some beauty in the experience. She told me the other day that it has been twenty-six months since her diagnosis, but the blessing is that she’s only been on chemo for twelve of those months. What a beautiful way to see it. No wonder I couldn’t find a suitable Hallmark sentiment. 

I can’t tell you how many times in the past twenty-six months she’s said something like that which left me inspired and overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of her life. Lynne may not sit cross-legged on her bed any more, but she does still read her Bible and that is where she has found much of her beauty regiment these days. She found it in Jesus’ words written in Mark 5:36. 

 “Don’t be afraid, just believe.” Jesus was saying that to people around him because a 12-year old girl was dying. Actually, the blood in her veins had ceased to flow. She was already dead. 

While Jesus was on his way to tend to the child and her family, a woman’s fingertips grazed the hem of his clothes. This woman had been suffering from a hemorrhage that had been flowing since the year that little girl was born. She reached out to Jesus and the gushing of blood stopped.

Jesus went on to the child’s house, took her by the hand and sent blood coursing through her veins again. She got up and ate something.

The people Jesus spoke those words to were troubled about a child dying. The bleeding woman was discouraged about living. Like cancer, nothing about either of those circumstances was beautiful. 

I can only imagine what that little girl told her girlfriends afterwards, or what the woman said to her family. They probably said little about their illnesses and more about touching Jesus. He is the one who brought the beauty and made the story worth retelling. 

That verse in Ecclesiastes goes on to say, “He has set eternity in the human heart.” To me that means hemorrhaging hearts can still have hope. It is hope and satisfaction that is found beyond this life and world, in eternity. It means even if our circumstances kill us, we can go on living, but we’ll need the blood of Jesus.  Don’t be afraid. Just believe.

This was originally posted February 8, 2015 on The Press and Standard's website: 

A Chance for a Do-Over

Thank goodness for 2015! While I am always grateful to have the privilege of seeing the dawning of another new year, I am also glad the old year has been packed away with the Christmas decorations. I’m all for new beginnings, do-overs, and more opportunities to try and get it right more often than I get it wrong.

With new beginnings fresh on my mind, I’m drawn back to the very first new year ever which is recorded in Chapter One of Genesis. Everything else in the Bible is grounded in that creation story. It all starts there, in the beginning.

Verse 3 describes the very first day: God said “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good. 

The second day, verses 9-10: God made and separated land and sea. And God saw that it was good.

Day three, verses 11-12: God made plants, trees, and vegetation. And God saw that it was good.

Day four, verses 14-19: God made the sun, moon, and stars.  And God saw that it was good.

Day five, verses 20-23: God filled the waters with fish and the sky with birds. And God saw that it was good.

Day six, verses 24-27: God made livestock and all the other animals. And God saw that the animals were good, but He wasn’t finished yet. Still on day six, God created man in his own image. He created male and female humans. 

And God saw that it…oh, wait. It doesn’t say that there. 

Further down in verse 31 God looked over the whole lot of His creation and saw that it all was very good, but there is no record that God looked specifically at the man and woman and declared them good as He did all the other things He created earlier in the week.

It makes me wonder, why was the light good?  What was it about the land, sea, sun, and moon that made God see them as good? I don’t think God needed the vegetation for food or the livestock to pull a wagon. God must have been doing just fine without any of those things before their creation, so what were those things actually good for?

I’ll tell you what I can’t live without in this new year:  days, nights, land, water, plants, and animals. I like to sleep when it’s dark outside, shower with warm water in the morning, and then eat eggs for breakfast. I think God saw all those things He created as good for humans, not for Himself. All of it was for us. 

Why would God do such a thing? You’ve probably heard someone declare their love to another by saying they would give them the world if they could. Maybe it was just the moon they wanted to gift to their beloved. Those words and ideas make good song lyrics, but even if we love another human that much none of us can actually lasso the moon for them. That, however, is exactly what God did because He loved us that much. 

The sun shining through my window glorifies God with every beam because that is what it was created to do. Rising in the east every morning is its response to the Creator. It has no other choice. It’s a reminder that God loves me. The human sitting here in my desk chair typing this was also created to glorify God, but I’m afraid I don’t always do that. I do have choice and sometimes, well, I’m in need of a do-over.

The good in humans is up to us. He loved us so much that even before we were born He created the world just for us. We get to decide what our response will be and whether we will use our lives to glorify Him or not. Will we ever hear God say that He sees humans as good?  I think it will come when it isn’t time that’s measured, but rather the volume of the praises sung to God Almighty. It is in the eternity of heaven that those who made the choice to spend their earthly lives glorifying God will get to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  

This was originally posted January 25, 2015 on The Press and Standard's website: