Super Friday

fresh prince friday

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I ran three miles this morning. I wanted to do more, but that’s all I had in the tank. This week has felt chock-full of Fridays. I loved it. The kids got out of school. Jonathon’s almost done with the house updates. Our vacation looms at the end of this month. So much to look forward to. And now, the weekend. Plus, I got to meet with several good friends this week. I have one more on tap at lunch today. What a bonus!

“So does that make this Friday a super Friday?” Jonathon asked me yesterday. I don’t know what it is, but I’ll take two, please. Super size me!

But…I may or may not have eaten a donut yesterday. And some dark chocolate chips.

Ahem.

I’m finding as I run more, my body craves more food. Most of the time, I answer it with more protein and/or fiber as well as good carbs. But not always.

I don’t crave the sweets like I used to. Not at all. I like that part. Food tastes better. I can savor it and get the sweetness out of it. Dried figs, oranges, apples, berries all fill the need much better. My energy holds steady all day long.

Sometimes, my guard slips. I make poor choices. Well, there seems to be no thought involved at all. No thinking required, simply open mouth and insert donut. But I can get up and go again the next minute, the next hour, the next day. I don’t have to give up. I am learning to forgive myself and move on. I don’t have to stay down. If nothing else, I hope I learn that one concept from this year of no sweets.

It’s grace, people. Grace tastes the sweetest of all.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. – Hebrews 4:16

 

Friday Faith

palm frond cross

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This week, I realized I’m working 3 half-time jobs.  I had meetings and reports and all sorts of things going on.  Oh, plus church.  Did I tell you we’re ramping up for our Christmas program?  Yeah.  So, I’m feeling the finiteness of my being keenly this week.  Not enough Susan to go around, folks.

I sometimes reminisce with great fondness of my old life of chores, church, working out and visiting with friends.  Seems so long ago now.  I don’t anticipate things slowing down any time soon. My limited human capabilities remain. But I remembered this:  Jesus said, in Matthew 28:20, in his closing instructions to the apostles:  “And be sure of this, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Bam!  Now peace can flood in.  Because no matter what life throws at you, be it a drenched, windy Friday, or a sunny Monday, Jesus remains at your side.  You don’t have to worry; He’ll never leave you nor forsake you.  The twists and turns of outrageous fortune don’t faze Him. Jesus said it in Hebrews 13:5, but God said it way back in Deuteronomy, too.  Stuff happens.  Life isn’t fair.  But Jesus.  He will make a way.

For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. – Isaiah 43:19

Sweet Discipline

Last night, our pastor preached out of Matthew 6.  If you recall, this is the chapter containing the Lord’s Prayer. I’ve included it in the New King James version, the closest to my Episcopalian roots:

Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. – Matthew 6:10-13

This scripture has been put to song and everything.  I remember reciting The Lord’s Prayer, kneeling on a fold-out blue velvet bench, at Grace Memorial on 15th Street.  We intoned it together, and instead of “evil one”, we simply said “evil”.  Covers all the bases.  Debts and debtors became the less-wieldy “trespasses” and “trespassed”. Not as musical, that. However, I detest the song, so I’m not posting it.  You can look it up on YouTube.

Pastor pointed out that Matthew’s gospel covers spiritual disciplines.  Jesus starts out the chapter talking about doing charitable deeds. He warns of avoiding hypocritical behavior, in other words, doing things for attention or pats on the back. Jesus states, “Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.”  The “atta boys” and public praise constitute all the thanks they will get. The infamous “do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing” written here speaks of doing good as secretly as possible.  Generally, my hands have no knowledge of anything, but I think you get the idea. The Father sees all, and will reward openly (Matthew 6:1-4).

Jesus needed to recalibrate the Jews’ former training. Prayer, long the purview of bloviating elite, had to incorporate into the disciples’ daily life.  This second, longer section starts out with instructions on how to pray.  Again, he admonishes them to avoid hypocrisy by praying loudly with many words in order to be seen. Lots of words don’t help God hear better, either.  Again, the “assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” He tells them to go and pray in secret, at home behind a closed door. Again, the encouragement:  “your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you openly.”

Then Jesus gives an example of how to pray (see above). I liked that our pastor explained it’s a model only, with places to add our particular needs and expressions of thanks.  Memorization, while nice, isn’t necessary.

Lastly, Jesus spoke on fasting.  He pointed out how the hypocrites made themselves visibly disheveled and despairing in order to gain sympathy and yet more accolades.  Don’t do it, devout dozen!  The same warning that hypocrites “have their reward” and “do it in secret as normal folk and let God bless you” apply here as well (Matthew 6:16-18).

Now that you have the basic outline, I’ll tell you what caught my attention.  Pastor said in this portion of the word, prayer is like the meat or “guts” (his word) of the sandwich.  The bread or two outer sandwich layers are good deeds and fasting. Jesus’ teaching on how to pray covers 10 verses. Prayer holds it all together. Prayer feeds us.   Prayer sustains the ability to give and the passion to fast. That intimate time with Jesus, the two-way conversation that is prayer, drives the believer.

Our other pastor closed the service with this scripture: But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. – Hebrews 11:6. Prayer time with God, speaking and listening, is never wasted.  In fact, it’ll feed your spirit.

 

 

 

First Fly

fly

I saw my first fly trapped in the house today.  I’m sure it won’t be the last.  However, I believe it merits a verse of its own.

First fly of the year
Spirals, swoops and dives.  From here
You look like freedom.

I read about cities of refuge in the book of Joshua today.  I know the haiku seems unrelated, but stay with me.

Joshua 20 outlines the parameters for cities of refuge.  If you’ve read this book before, you know Joshua set up cities of refuge for people to flee to when they accidentally murdered someone.

The Lord said to Joshua, “Now tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed Moses. Anyone who kills another person accidentally and unintentionally can run to one of these cities; they will be places of refuge from relatives seeking revenge for the person who was killed.

“Upon reaching one of these cities, the one who caused the death will appear before the elders at the city gate and present his case. They must allow him to enter the city and give him a place to live among them. If the relatives of the victim come to avenge the killing, the leaders must not release the slayer to them, for he killed the other person unintentionally and without previous hostility. But the slayer must stay in that city and be tried by the local assembly, which will render a judgment. And he must continue to live in that city until the death of the high priest who was in office at the time of the accident. After that, he is free to return to his own home in the town from which he fled.” – Joshua 20:1-6

I always liked this idea.  But accidental killing, I must admit, is a foreign concept to me.  But it wouldn’t be to the Israelites.  They killed and grew their own food.  They worked with sharp objects on a regular basis.  They used slingshots and bows and arrows.  We don’t.  Well, *I* don’t.  I get my meat at the supermarket.  Or a from a guy in a van.  Whatever.

So you accidentally decapitate your neighbor.  You know your neighbor has 3 brothers who will be after you in a heartbeat, seeking retribution. You must away.  Now.  (Insert Christopher Cross song here). You have three choices on each side of the Jordan, three on the east bank and three on the west bank. You present your case upon your arrival to the new city.  No hiding out, no fugitive status here .  You will be tried there. No matter if you come up guilty, you have protection.  Essentially, you’re under town arrest.  You can’t leave.  You’re like the fly in my poem.  You can fly only so high and so far until you hit a wall…or a window.  Once the high priest who was in office at the time dies, you can return to your home town.  The high priest’s death, in effect, exonerates you.

I like this because everything is out in the open.  I don’t suppose the folks who lived in those towns appreciated the idea of possible man-slaughterers living among them.  “Not in my backyard!” comes to mind.  But the mercy of God shows up here. I’m hoping the people in each of these towns learned to have some, too.  I’m afraid I have no pity for our fly.

I think about our high priest, Jesus.  He died to cover our sins.  His death frees us from living under the arrest of our own sin-tax.  The wages of sin is death.  Now we can live free forever.  And we can tell the world about this.

But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. – Hebrews 10:12

Once Upon a Life

yolo

I’ve always heard “I’ll try anything once” and “You only live once”, or YOLO.  Zac hates that particular acronym, so I try to work it in as much as possible.  The idea with YOLO being

… I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life – Henry David Thoreau

It’s a deeply American sentiment, I think.  Thoreau went to live off the grid, almost totally self-sufficient, and wrote about his experiences in Walden.  Sidenote:  One wonders, these people who get called *all* three of their names and they aren’t in trouble (Sarah Michelle Gellar), was there another Henry Thoreau living at the same time? Using the David would make sense then.  Thoreau doesn’t seem like a common name.  Maybe he went by H.D.?  Did Henry ever hear his the echo of his mother’s voice raised in frustration whenever anyone addressed him?  One wonders.

The other part of this is, of course, summed up in this quote:

“Life is short, break the rules, forgive quickly, kiss slowly, love truly, laugh uncontrollably, and never regret anything that made you smile. Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”- Mark Twain

These quotes seem to push us to excellence, to step away from materialism and the oppression of the status quo.   But I feel they touch on something much deeper.  Like I mentioned, it’s part of our subconscious as a nation.  We are rugged individualists, especially here in the Northwest.  We don’t cotton much to being told what to do.  Pioneers, territories, living off the land, etc.  The flip side is this niggling issue of living for the moment, for the pleasure of it, that can land you in worlds of hurt.  “If it feels good, do it”.  “You gotta look out for number one.”  My personal favorite:  “I did it my waaaayyy!”

See the problem?  Sometimes, it can be a tiny step from living deeply to neglecting your responsibilities in order to facilitate, uh, enriching activities.  Actions affecting others must be considered, thoughtful decisions.  If I spend all the money in our bank account on a new wardrobe, what will we do until the next paycheck?  “Hey, I look slammin’!  Who needs food?”  If I drive my car until it runs out of gas, how will I get home? “Oh, I’ll just call a tow truck.”  But it’s my life, right?!

It’s irresponsible.  It’s expensive.  It’s unnecessary.  It’s immature.

It’s selfish.

Contrast this state of mind with Christ.  I was reading in Hebrews today, and this passage from chapter 9 stuck out:

For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf.  And he did not enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the high priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal. If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But now, once for all time, he has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice. – Hebrews 9:24-26

“Once, for all time”.  Wow!  He only lived on earth once, and He only died once.  But it was enough.  He nailed the YOLO concept. Literally. Maybe our mindset needs to change.  Instead of thinking of “you only live once” as an opportunity to throw off restraint, let’s think of it as an opportunity to do good.  You only live once, so take care of your family.  You only live once; be kind to everyone you meet, as much as God enables you.  You only live once.  Make it the most of it.

Transition to Freedom

Today I started the book of Exodus.  At this point in the Biblical narrative, the children of Israel – which I always thought of as a poetical name, but they were literally his descendants – have been in Egypt for 430 years.  Joseph is dead and gone and a new Pharoah, one who didn’t know of Joseph or all the good he did, arose.

He noticed there sure were a lot of Hebrew people.  Thousands.  He decided to make them slaves.  The Bible says “they [the Egyptians] made their lives bitter” (v.14).  And yet…verse 12 says that they more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Israelites multiplied and spread!  It alarmed the Egyptians greatly.  Granted, this was before birth control, but still!  They were already outnumbered.  Might as well get the benefit of slave labor from them.  Pharoah even instituted a policy where every male Hebrew baby was to be killed, upon sight.

Enter Moses.

Set adrift in a waterproof basket, he was rescued by Pharoah’s daughter.  Raised in Pharoah’s court, he never forgot who he really was:  a Hebrew.  When the time arose to defend a fellow Hebrew, he acted:  murder.  Misunderstood and fearful of being discovered and punished, he runs to the desert.  There, God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush, a story we’re all familiar with.  In Exodus 3, God appoints Moses as his mouthpiece to Pharoah.  Moses, a man of checkered past, arises as the Israelites’ deliverer.

Pharoah, even with Aaron as interpreter, is not impressed.  In fact, Moses’ plea to let the Hebrew slaves go intot he wilderness and sacrifice to God only arouses his ire.  He’s not impressed with the god of a slave-people.  To show he cares enough to send the very best, he tells the Egyptian slavedrivers and Israelite foremen that now the slaves must make bricks without being supplied the straw.  They must gather it themselves (5:6) and still make their daily quotas.  Nobody likes this.

Everyone complains.  The Israelite foremen even go back to Pharoah and blame him (rightly so) for this ridiculous requirement.  Pharoah tells them they’re lazy and that’s why they want a 3-day excursion – or vacation!- to offer sacrifices (v. 19).  The Israelite foremen then complain to Moses:  “May the Lord judge and punish you for making us stink before Pharoah and his officials.  You have put a sword into their hands, an excuse to kill us!” (v. 21).

This causes Moses and Aaron to go back to the Lord and question the whole thing.  Little did Moses know how much longer it would take to finally leave Egypt for good.  Yahweh gives comfort, edification and identity:  “Say to the people of Israel:  ‘I am the Lord.  I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt.  I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment.  I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God…I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob'” (v.6-8).

What I really noticed for the first time this reading is that the Israelites could not receive that word.  They had no intimate knowledge of this I Am.  The Bible says “but they refused to listen anymore.  They had become to discouraged by the brutality of their slavery” (v.9).  Wow.  I think the ever-worsening plagues were just as much for the benefit of Jacob’s offspring as they were to establish God’s sovereignty to the Egyptians.  There was a revealing of who God really is, despite their awful circumstances up until this point.  As the plagues unfolded like a bouquet of crusty black flowers, the faith of God’s chosen people grew.

If you read on in this chapter, verse 14 outlines all the genealogy of  Moses and Aaron.  Wait.  There shouldn’t be *any* sons, right?  Apparently, the Hebrew children found a way to keep their male babies from death.  To me, that shows they already had some courage, some desire to be free and do what was right.  They saw themselves as independent and part of another nation.  They had the tools, perhaps still in a rough form, to follow after God and fully obey His commands.  The seeds of their eventual freedom were already there.

So the questions become:  What is freedom worth?  How many times did Moses go to Pharoah, asking him to “let my people go”?  Would you do that for yourself or those you love?

Gotta Have Faith

Now you’ve all got the George Michael song in your head.  Admit it!

I think this is the most challenging part of being a Christian:  having faith.  As I walked over to Ruby’s bus stop to greet her, I considered our current situation.  There are several situations where we need God to intervene directly, and soon.  I can’t do any more to further the cause; I must sit back and wait for the Lord to act, or for Him to direct me in such a way that I *can* act.  I’ve written about faith before a couple of times, most recent as the last month or so.

Ruby has two loose teeth, both hanging by a little thread of skin.  She moped all the way home from the bus today because her front tooth, a loose baby tooth, was bleeding.  She checked it out in the mirror.  She let me touch it.

“Ouch!” she winced as I pushed to see how loose it was.

But she won’t let me pull it.  No way!  I tried to convince her I’d be gentle and it would only hurt for a moment.  She remains skeptical, and the tooth remains in her head.  For now.

Faith still remains a mystery to me.  I wrestle with it.  I want so much to believe and not doubt, but I seem to go through the faith cycle repeatedly, like a broken washing machine:  white-knuckled anxiety – doubt – prayer – faith, over and over.  I hope this is strengthening the “faith muscle” as I trust and obey.  What of people who pray and great miracles occur?  I’ve heard all the stories of people who were down to their last piece of bread and groceries appeared on their doorstep.  God heals people of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, you name it.  He is able to do that.

Scriptures like these add to faith’s foggy mystique:  Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1 NLT). More specifically:  And it is impossible to please God without faith.  Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely (other translations use the word “diligently”) seek him.

The Old Testament has some things to say about faith, too.  David says in Psalm 27: 13 Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.

And that’s really the issue, in my opinion. I have good in mind for Ruby.  I want her to be able to eat regularly again, not dodging those wiggly teeth.  At this point, she doesn’t trust me to remove them for her.  Will we see God’s goodness again, when he’s come through time after time?  Yes.  We will.  I start to recall the times He’s provided for us, financially, with children, with jobs.  He will bring good out of these situations and take care of us.  He is our Father.