The Message of the Empty Chairs on Sunday

So, Sunday morning comes around and you want to focus on worshipping God but there’s a problem. Empty chairs.

We cannot ignore the empty chairs in our midst. And we shouldn’t. Through this silent multitude, God speaks to us.

Through those who are not present, the ever present One delivers a message of challenge and hope. What does God say through empty chairs?

First He says to us “Do not be afraid.”

God knows what we are made of and He understands the fear that emptiness creates.

It is in our design to want to correct emptiness for it was into the emptiness of time that the Creator spoke into being all that we know and we are created in His image. Yet, that is the very reason we shouldn’t fear when faced with emptiness but have every reason to hope.

Like our Creator, we are empowered by His spirit to fill emptiness with light and life. Faced with emptiness, we should see not an end, but a beginning.

The empty chair beside you does not have to be the end of what you have known. Instead, let it be a beginning of a new adventure in faith. The beginning of a relationship with the one only God knows will soon be seated there.

Pray for courage. Pray, also, for the missing one who has yet to join us.

Next, God says “Stand firm.”

Emptiness brings with it the temptation to doubt, to yield, to surrender to that which is not of God.

Empty stomachs tempt us to steal. Empty gas tanks tempt us to doubt that God will provide. Empty lives tempt us to believe there is no God and so, we reason, we may as well live without thought for future judgment.

Likewise, empty chairs tempt us to consider vacating our own place at the gathering. Empty chairs tempt us to compromise the message of truth to see the chairs full again. Empty chairs tempt us to believe God has forgotten us, does not see us, will not reward us for our efforts on His behalf.

These empty chairs ask us if we truly believe what we say we believe.

We are not the first in the faith to face empty chairs.

The disciples faced chairs emptied through missions, betrayal, and martyrdom. Throughout history, believers have faced chairs emptied by disagreement, death, persecution, separation, imprisonment or shipwrecked faith. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who urge us not to abandon our own place at the worship table and not to lose heart because of these empty chairs.

Pray for the strength to remain firm in the faith of Christ even when you are taunted by emptiness.

The final message our God would say to us through these empty chairs is this: “Continue the work. We are not home yet.”

Have we been content to sit by as others miss the call of Christ? Have we done all that we are called to do to see that others know they are invited to and welcome at this gathering? Have we, through our own negligence, hypocrisy, self-involvement, fear or blindess chased away the inhabitants of the chairs? Is the empty chair beside us a personal invitation from Christ to participate in the furthering of His kingdom, to repent of our own sin, to go deeper with Christ?

God does not fear emptiness.

He boldly enters an empty heart and fills it with Himself. He lovingly enters an empty world and fills it with His light. He powerfully enters an empty church and fills it with the Fire of his Holy Spirit.

God spoke to the world through an empty tomb. What is He saying to you today through empty chairs?

The Secret to Getting God to do What You Want

OK, so here’s how I know I still don’t have it right.

I spend a significant portion of my spiritual life trying to figure out how to control God.

After forty-some years of following Jesus, I’ve gotten better at disguising my efforts as attempts to “get closer” to God (He’s never fooled. I’m kind of stupid, though, so I manage to fool myself all the time). But when it comes right down to it, much of that desire to get closer to Him is based on the human notion that the closer I am to Him, the more influence I have over Him and the more likely I am to succeed in getting Him to do what I want Him to do!

He’s pretty determined, though, to get our relationship to a place where I am content with being close to Him for the joy of being close to Him.

I get that. I mean, that’s what I want from the people in my life. I don’t want to think my husband only cozies up to when he’s hungry or feeling romantic. I’d like to believe he loves me for who I am and not for what I do for him. Likewise I would not want my kids to only call or visit when they are in need of cash or consolation. I want them to enjoy just having a close relationship with me. I don’t think I’d even be friends with someone who was only interested in me for what I could do for them.

So, I get it.

But there’s so much that I want and God is all-powerful and everything and I’m so not powerful and there is so little that I can actually control, that the temptation to grow close to God in an effort to control Him and therefore, control my world is pretty compelling stuff.

Sometimes I fake it.

That’s it, Lord. You win. You’re right. I relinquish everything to You. All I want is You and if nothing changes in my world, then that is enough. Then I sing a couple choruses of I Surrender All and sit back and wait.

What am I usually waiting for? Well, honestly, for Him to notice how surrendered I am and think that’s so mature and all, that He decides, finally, to give me everything I’ve been asking for all along.

So, you see my problem.

I idolize control.

I don’t want bad things. I’m not asking God to make my thighs thinner or to smite that woman who said mean things to me or to get my favorite political candidate into office. I want pretty noble stuff like for my children to walk with the Lord, a cure for my husband’s illness, just enough resources to live simply without debt and, OK, it would be nice if my thighs were a little thinner and my husband would stand still long enough for us to have a conversation or two without me repeating every other word. (Someone stop me now!)

One of my all time favorite movies is Out of Africa (1985). Meryl Streep plays a Danish baroness trying to grow coffee in 20th century colonial Africa and she is trying to control the water that flows through her property (along with the people in her world). Early in the movie, she speaks with her assistant who is an African national:

Streep: If you put a dam here to stop the water… then I can make a pond here. – Do you know how…

Assistant: This water must go home to Mombasa.

Streep: It can go home after we make a pond.

Assistant: Msabu, this water lives at Mombasa.

Streep: Come, then. See if you can shore it up.

Throughout the movie, we see her repeated and futile attempts to put up a dam that will withstand the pressure of the water. Her attempts to control what will not be controlled.

But, she grows up in Africa. She learns. And toward the end of the movie, when the dam breaks again, we get this:

Streep: Move away. Let it go. This water lives in Mombasa anyway.

So many of our efforts are put into trying to control what we cannot control. Especially God.

For many of us, love means letting me control you. Sometimes we can convince humans to play that game with us but God doesn’t buy into that one.

I think many of us see the titles of Christian living books and no matter what it actually says, what we read is “The Secret to Getting God to do What I Want.”

Obviously, if you’ve been reading this post, you can see that I don’t have the whole answer to this problem but one thing I do know is that I can’t solve it without God’s help.

So now, I often begin my time with Him by openly admitting – Lord, I’m pretty much showing up here hoping that You’ll do what I want or hoping that you’ll change someone else in my life not me. (I think that admitting you have a problem is the first step.)

I want to want God for Him alone. I want to stop making an idol of control. Showing up with Him is the only way I know to get the cure for that ailment that resides deep in the DNA I inherited from Eve.

I keep trying to shore up the Living Water of Christ – tame the raging river of God so I can make a little pond to water my land. It will be best when I allow Him to flow where He will flow.

Let it go. This water lives in Mombasa anyway. Let it go. Let it flow.

Bill Belichick and Me

My conversion to football fan came relatively late in life and is due to a certain friendship with lasting influence and one man– Bill Belichick.

As I was drawn, along with all of New England, to the compelling dynasty of the Patriots’ winning seasons, my life entered a season of constant change.

Serious illness affects my husband and parents. Job loss and the economic downturn have hit close to home. I am raising a teen-ager and a young adult in periods of constant transition. We’ve moved. We’ve changed churches. We’ve changed jobs. I’ve lost friends and made new ones through illness, divorce, relocation and other unforeseen events. I’ve ventured into new areas of writing and work.

Some changes are exhilarating and welcome. Others are devastating and prolonged. Change and transition appear to be the way of life for the foreseeable future and that is why I am drawn to Bill Belichick.

Every Sunday afternoon throughout football season, I can reliably find Coach Belichick standing on the sidelines, wearing the same gray sweatshirt and the same focused, grim expression throughout an entire game of dramatic ups and downs. Whether the team has just scored a breathtaking touchdown or suffered a humiliating setback, the camera doesn’t even need to pan to Belichick’s expression – it’s always the same.

Did Tom Brady just get sacked on fourth down? Belichick appears grim and focused. Are the Patriot’s up by 35 points? Belichick appears grim and focused. Have they just lost their first game in fifteen? Belichick appears grim and focused. Have they just won their seventeenth game in an unprecedented winning streak? Belichick appears grim and focused.

Belichick displays the same aplomb when he is at a post-game press conference. He never seems overawed by the cameras, the reporters, the attention or the questions. Here are a few of his classic quotes:

At the 2009 combine, when asked why teams were signing young coaches: “I don’t know. I’m just trying to coach the Patriots. I’m not trying to solve the world’s problems.”

After losing Super XLII to the Giants, spoiling the NFL’s first 19-0 season: “Well, we’re disappointed.”

On whether or not he sees himself making the Hall of Fame: “No. Let’s just see if we can get the team to get off on the count and get 11 guys on the field on a punt return right now. No.”

Revealing his “genius” strategy: “We just played the game the way it came out. I don’t know what would have happened if something else would have happened. I don’t know.”

“What pleased me most, probably, was that we made decent steps with fundamentals and the foundation of the team”

See, don’t you just love him? He reminds me of the apostle Paul when he said: “So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.” I Corinthians 4:1-5

And again, in Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”

In seasons of constant change, I want to take a cue from the winning strategy of Coach Belichick. Focus on the game. Pay attention to the fundamentals. Work hard on the foundation. Don’t be too impressed with victory nor too devastated by loss. Remember who you are and who you aren’t. Do your job and let God judge the rest.

Did you experience a win? Move on. Hit the showers and show up early tomorrow for practice. Did you experience a tragic failure? Move on. Hit the showers and show up early tomorrow for practice. Are people saying ugly things about you? What do they know? Hit the showers and show up early tomorrow for practice. Are people singing your praises? What do they know? Hit the showers and show up early tomorrow for practice.

We waste a lot of energy trying to judge the game before the final clock – in football and in life. “Judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes.” is a vital passage to keep in the forefront of our thinking in these days of constant change.

Sometimes I can almost hear Jesus, standing in the locker room at the end of my day full of its own wins and losses – “That game’s over, Lori, move on. Hit the showers and show up early tomorrow for practice.”

And I listen. Because in the midst of the grit and the glamour of the game where everything can change at the flip of a coin, my God is always there, never changing, focused and prepared for the next play.

So, go on, all of you. Hit the showers and show up early tomorrow for practice.

Can You Keep A Secret?

God is so not like me.

If I were Jesus, whenever I performed a miracle or healed someone or raised someone from the dead, I would say “Be sure to tell your friends! Spread the word, people. God is on the scene!”

I’d have appointed John as PR man for the Judean press and given him a list of talking points. I’d have encouraged Peter to start a blog about his experiences on the road with the Son of God. I might have had Thomas and James the Less hit every new town ahead of the rest of the team to start the buzz and gather the crowds.

But God is so not like me.

If you keep reading through Mark (remember Mark 5 and 6 from earlier this month?), continuing through Mark 7, 8 and 9, you can’t help but be struck by how often Jesus tells people NOT to tell anyone what He has done for them.

Some Biblical scholars refer to that as The Messianic Secret.

Get up and walk but don’t tell anyone that I did this. Open your eyes, you can see. Now don’t go running around telling everyone that I healed you. Who do you say that I am? The Christ? Good. You understand. Now tell no one.

What’s up with that?

Well, here’s what I think.

God is not like me. Jesus was able, amidst the temptation of adoring crowds, distractions of every kind, popularity, need, poverty, disease, demon possession, a growing following, miracles, people hanging on His every word, pressure from the Pharisees, pressure from his own disciples and the knowledge that one of them was plotting to betray Him, amidst all this – Jesus never lost sight of His purpose.

He knew who He was. He knew why He was here. He was the sacrificial lamb. He was the payment for sin. He was His Father’s plan for redemption. Even as the crowds cried out for Him and His poll numbers toppled all other contenders for King, He knew the path to His future went straight through the cross.

He was not on a promotional tour of earth. He was not running for God. He came to die and to rise again. Death would have to come first. Spreading the gospel would come later.

Jesus knew who He was and He knew why He was here and nothing diverted His attention from that plan laid out for Him by His Father, with whom He was in daily contact.

The disciples must have thought He was nuts when it came to this secrecy thing. What are you saying? Of course, they should tell people! Why are you silencing everyone? Aren’t you here to save, to lead, to be King? Lighten up! A couple of billboards, some print ads and a tasteful 30-second radio spot and we will own this place!

God is so not like me.

But I can be like Him.

I can learn from the Master. If I answer His call to come away with Him alone. If I quiet my soul, read His word and pray. If I am open to the work of His Spirit in my heart. If I obey what He commands and listen for His voice, then I, too, can know who I am in Him. I, too, can know His purpose for me on earth.

I, too, can learn to not be swayed by the crowd, distracted by popularity or followings, self-seeking, self-promoting, self-serving, living from sign to miracle to answered prayer. I can learn to seek God alone.

This is what God is like:

In I Kings 19:11-13 is this story of when God appeared to Elijah. “The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.

After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.

After the earthquake came a fire.

And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”

In a day when it seems the loudest voice with the best promotional team and the coolest graphics wins the day, remember that God is not like us.

But we can be like Him.

Shh, be very, very quiet.

Shepherds, Cowherds and The Secret of Life

So, even though King David lived in ancient Israel before cell phones, laptops, call waiting and 300 cable channels, he understood the problem of modern man. In Psalm 86:11b he cries out “Give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name.”

An undivided heart? Some days I can barely find an undivided minute!

When was the last time you did ONE THING AT A TIME?

When we drive, we’re catching up on our phone messages, learning a second language or listing to NPR. When we eat, we’re watching the news or reading an assignment or driving or checking our email. When we work, we don’t focus on one task. We’re writing a report while we’re meeting with an employee while we’re instant messaging Europe and planning a conference call. Home is no different. We are mopping the floor while we load the laundry and bounce one baby on our hips while we’re teaching another child how to read and working on a chapter of the Love Dare to improve our marriage. We come into the gym to work out and we’ve got books on ipods and music on iphones and so many wires and gadgets, you’d think we were being monitored for heart problems through their workouts.

Remember the movie City Slickers? Billy Crystal (the city slicker) is herding cattle alongside Curly (the trail hardened cowboy) when Curly ventures the following wisdom:
Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
[holds up one finger]
Curly: This.
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean @@#.
Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”
Curly: [smiles] That’s what *you* have to find out.

One thing for a lifetime? Many people I know don’t even watch one channel on the TV at a time anymore!

But David was a shepherd and Curly was a cowherd. That’s cosmic cinematic symbolism, right?

We are suffering for our divided attention. If the eyes are the lamps of the body, then divided attention will eventually lead to divided hearts. A divided heart is a weakened heart. A failing heart. A diseased heart. We are losing heart.

There was a popular song out, not too long ago called One Thing and the chorus was “If I traded it all,If I gave it all away for one thing, Just for one thing. If I sorted it out, If I knew all about this one thing Wouldn’t that be something?”

That’s an amazing message to come from the most multi-tasking, tech savvy generation to come along. The message for ONE THING.

There have been times in the past months when I thought I couldn’t keep on going. The weight of life was crushing and I need to find the escape hatch. Not really an option but that’s how I felt.

I’ve learned now when that happens to make a cup of coffee and head to my deck that faces out on a patch of woods. I bring nothing else. Just the coffee. And I sit. And I breathe. And I pay attention. It’s worth a thousand vacations in those moments when I just do one thing.

Remember the seventies movie about St. Francis of Assisi called Brother Son, Sister Moon? This problem we have of divided hearts, divided attentions, losing ourselves in the craziness of life was not unknown in medieval times. I’ll finish this blog with the lyrics from one of the songs from that soundtrack by Donovan and then I hope you’ll make yourself a cup of coffee and go somewhere to sit and just drink your coffee. That’s what I’m going to do.

If you want your dream to be
Build it slow and surely.
Small beginnings, greater ends
Heartfelt work grows purely.
If you want to live life free
Take your time go slowly.
Do few things but do them well
Simple joys are holy.
Day by day,
Stone by stone,
Build your secret slowly.
Day by day,
You’ll grow too,
You’ll know heaven’s glory.
If you want your dream to be
Build it slow and surely.
Small beginnings, greater ends,
Heartfelt work grows purely.
If you want to live life free
Take your time go slowly.

You Can Rest When You’re Dead.

So, if you ever think that Jesus cannot understand what your life is like, take a moment and read Mark, chapter 6.

Now, in Mark, chapter 5, (go ahead, read that, too) Jesus as been someplace called the region of the Gerasenes. Not important, except that he’s not home. Anyway, so there He’s doing amazing work: casting out demons, healing the sick, and raising the dead. Cool God stuff. Making headlines in the Gerasene Journal Bulletin for sure.

So, in Mark 6, Jesus takes His disciples back to His hometown. He tries to teach there. He tries to do the same thing He did in the region of the Gerasenes but He’s home now and no one is into thinking that some kid they watched grow up and build tables is going to turn out to be the Son of God. They’re offended by Him and their faith is so small that He “could not do any miracles there.”

Ever feel like that when you get home from work? You just pulled off a major deal or performed brain surgery or talked a woman off a ledge or taught twenty-five first graders how to write their names and then you get home and everyone there is just annoyed because dinner is late, you forgot to pick up milk and “oh, did you remember to drag the garbage out to the curb?”

So, next, Jesus is traveling around teaching and healing and doing more miracles – one of which is to find twelve men who He empowers to do what He’s been doing. He sends them out and they come back with their own amazing stories but pretty worn out. He tells them they all need a rest and He tries to take them somewhere quiet.
But when they get there, a crowd’s been tailing them and beats them to the quiet place. Jesus loves people so He doesn’t yell and send them all away (like I would); He spends time teaching them, too.

So, by the end of that day, Jesus and the disciples have to be way past tired but now all these people are hungry and they want Jesus and the disciples to feed them.

Ever been there? You’re out taking care of business and you try to get a moment alone but then there are more people in that quiet place who need you so you spend time taking care of them. Then, when you’re about spent, they want dinner and you’re supposed to cook or cough up the cash for pizza!

So, Jesus works out a meal for 5000 with some bread and fish. And, He packs the disciples into a boat to head off for some rest while He closes up shop with the crowd.

Finally, Jesus heads off to the hills for time alone with God. Even then though, as He’s praying, He can see the disciples can’t even handle a boat ride across the lake without Him. A pop-up storm is whipping them into a frenzy so, He sets out toward the boat (on foot – on water – more cool God stuff) to get into the boat with them and calm things down. And even with all they’ve seen, He can tell they aren’t quite getting what He’s trying to show them.

Ever been there? You’re trying to lead a team, you’re giving them your best stuff and they’ve seen miracles but leave them alone for five minutes and they’re coming unglued, ready to throw all their gold into a fire and worship a cow (wait, that’s another story).

Anyway, at the end of Mark 6, as soon as the boat touches shore, another crowd gathers and Jesus just gets to work teaching, healing, casting out demons, you know, exhausting God stuff on no sleep.

So, ever wonder if Jesus understands your crazy days? I think He’s got a clue.

One of the popular t-shirts at my karate studio bears the motto “You can rest when you’re dead.” When I see that motto, I think, well, yes, if you’ve made the choice in this life to follow Jesus into His rest. The other option seems somehow less restful.

You can rest when you’re dead. Whether you’re a mom or a missionary, a minister or a mail carrier, sometimes life just keeps coming, the demands pile up and you’ve just got to keep punching away.

Especially when we choose to follow Jesus, there can be times when the work of caring for others just doesn’t let up, when those around us just don’t get it and those at home are totally unimpressed by our abilities. It’s fine for people to tell us that we need to “get away” or remember to “take care of ourselves” but there are all those other people waiting for healing, for dinner, for resurrection.

Jesus knows we need a rest. He also know we CAN rest when we’re dead because He’s got an amazing place all ready for us to totally recoup from the days of labor.

Sometimes, all you can do is hang on. He’ll never leave you alone and He knows exactly how you feel.

If you’ve been living Mark chapter 6, take heart. Don’t add the guilt of not leading a perfectly balanced life to your load. Just hang on. Jesus is headed right out to your boat.

And rejoice. You CAN rest when you’re dead.

You Had to Be There – Were You?

So, I spent this week-end being with other people.

Friday, a service to celebrate the life of my friend, Diane, who died two weeks ago.

Saturday, the wedding of my friend, Jean, in her seventies and still reinventing herself, open to new adventures and new love.

Sunday , worship service and then a birthday party for my mother.

Sunday night, hours in the emergency room with my husband finding out that he has pneumonia.

It was a week-end of being with.

I missed some things to attend all these events with others. I didn’t make much progress revising my novel. I didn’t sit on my deck enjoying the beautiful weather. I didn’t read or watch any movies. I fell behind in cleaning, paperwork and sleep.

I had conversations with more than one person who chose not to attend either the memorial, the wedding or worship service.

“Those kinds of events aren’t really my thing.”

“I can’t deal with being with people.”

“No one will miss me. I’ve got things to do.”

“That’s not really my scene.”

“I couldn’t find a good reason why I should be there.”

Truth be told, I could happily live the life of a monk. I thrive on long hours of solitude. I’ve got books to read and to write. But I’ve learned from watching Jesus that the most important way we can minister to others is to show up in their lives.

In fact, in preparation for Jesus’ birth, Joseph has a dream and the Lord says to him, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” -which means, “God with us.”

God WITH us.

How vital it is that He is WITH us. And when Jesus walked the earth, He walked with us. He attended weddings, deaths, and parties. He showed up for dinner. He showed up at the bedside of the sick and the tombs of the dead.

Jesus was WITH us so often, His critics accused Him of too much partying “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”Matthew 11:18-19a

There are thousands of reasons NOT to get together. We don’t know what to say. We’ve got nothing to offer. We can’t dance. We’re uncomfortable with others. We’re clumsy. We’re busy. We have no wisdom. We’re going through a tough time. Other people drive us crazy. We bore easily. We hate formalities. We hate crowds. There’s a game on TV. It’s too intense for us. We can’t handle it.

The truth is, though, that if we want to follow Christ, we must follow Him right into the midst of the crowd.

The crowd may be dancing in the street or marching in a funeral procession or holding vigil for a sick child or worshipping or waiting in the ER or just sharing a meal but the crowd needs Jesus and we carry His spirit within us so we need to be WITH them so He can do His work through us.

Time alone with God is vital. Jesus set that example, too. He spent hours alone with God early in the mornings or sometimes all night. But, then, He dove right into the messy, muddled midst of our lives, rolled up His sleeves and got involved WITH us.

Bette Midler sings a song about some god who watches “From a Distance”. Jesus isn’t that God. Jesus is Immanuel – God WITH us.

So, I really, really can’t dance and somewhere out there now there is video to prove that but I danced this week-end with friends who had cried the night before and who gathered to celebrate the night after. We were together in grief and together in joy. We danced like fools but we showed up for each other. And Jesus wept with us and danced with us and waited with us in the ER.

“You had to be there” is more than just a popular saying; it’s a call to live like Jesus – a lifestyle of being with.

A Stone’s Throw From Help

So, this morning I was thinking about how we all love the story about Jesus defending the adulterous woman who was about to be stoned by the self-righteous crowd. Remember that story?

There she is, standing alone (despite the fact that she couldn’t have committed adultery alone) and the crowd is ready to put her to death. Her guilt is sure. They are within their legal, cultural and religious rights to take action. They turn to Jesus looking for approval because if anyone knows the rules, He should.

Jesus knows more than the rules, however. He knows what is in their hearts. So he tells them, “Let him who is without sin among you, cast the first stone.” One by one, they drop their stones and walk away.

And we in the modern age stand and cheer! Go Jesus! You nailed ‘em! The self-righteous sons of (well, you know.). Anyway, rock on, Jesus. You know how to put the judgmental religious hypocrites in their places.

But, as Paul Harvey says, there’s more to the story. “Only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

What’s that? “Go now and leave your life of sin.” Did Jesus just call her a sinner? Oh, yeah, baby. Because that’s what she was. She couldn’t have thrown a stone either.

OK, so back to us. Like I said, we love this story but I’m not sure why since it illustrates a point that we hate to acknowledge in 2009 – we are ALL sinners.

That’s right. I said it. I called you a sinner. I resurrected that archaic word that you’d like relegated to the pulpits of yesteryear along with its companions “hell”, “damnation” and “repentance”. Man, one thing we modern American’s hate is to be called sinners or to have any of our behavior characterized as sin.

OK, sure, we have weaknesses. We’re not perfect. We make MISTAKES. We have our moments. I mean, everyone has faults. But, we’re in recovery. We’ve made resolutions. We’re in therapy. We’re trying. We’ve been under stress. Our whole family is like this. We’ve signed up for a retreat, a conference, a seminar, a program. We’ll fix this. Back off, it’s not like we killed anybody. We’re not hurting anyone. Don’t worry, man, it’s all good.

But it isn’t. It’s sin.

And we know it.

See, if we’re going to cheer Jesus on when he says “Let him who is without sin among you, cast the first stone.” then we’ve got to acknowledge that we’re standing in that crowd and that makes us sinners. Even if we identify with the woman caught in adultery, we still wind up sinners. So, unless you think you’re Jesus, everyone else in the story had a sin problem and so do you.

Jesus knew that woman sinned. She knew she’d sinned. The angry mob was so full of self-righteousness, however, that they were blind to their own sin. Jesus wasn’t saying the woman didn’t need to change, He was saying the mob needed to change, too.

We’re the mob.

I really think that we may go down in human history as the most self-righteous generation that ever walked the planet. And yet, we are just like the ancient Israelites when Isaiah the prophet cried out “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you;” Isaiah 64:6-7a

The truth is, in 2009, you can’t throw a stone without hitting a sinner.

The answer is to take ourselves out of the blind, misguided crowd and place ourselves in the place of condemnation with the woman who was caught.

Better to be caught in our sin. Better to acknowledge that our righteous acts are like filthy rags. Better to be left alone with Jesus and find our sin recognized, named for what it is, ourselves in need of change.

Best to be left alone with Jesus and walk away forgiven with a righteousness – not our own – but one that will defend us in the end.

So yeah, I just called you a sinner. What are you going to do about it?

Believe me, you’re just a stone’s throw away from help. His name is Jesus.


Ever play Whack-a-Mole?

I used to love that arcade game. The player is armed with a hefty mallet and stands before a board covered with holes. When the game begins, automated moles pop up at random and the player gets points for every mole he whacks back into the hole. I was always a high scorer. I used to love Whack-a-Mole when it was just a game.

But now, it’s my life.

If I were standing before a giant map of my life, the big red X indicating “You Are Here” would actually be a photo of Whack-a-Mole.

My husband is sick – mystery illness. My roof leaks. My son is twenty and figuring out his future. My daughter is sixteen – that’s right – sixteen. There’s a pipe leaking in my basement (different leak than the roof leak because one leak is just not enough!) My parents bring joy to every moment of every day (OK, my mother reads my blog – you all have parents, translate.) I’m forty-eight, still trying to lose my baby weight (not from being pregnant – from being an actual baby) and still trying to publish a book. I home school. I work part-time. I just moved back to my hometown after thirty years. It’s rained 25 of the last 30 days – did I mention my roof leaks?


I’m not the first person to be here. Troubles are a favorite theme of the Psalmists.
A righteous man may have many troubles but the Lord delivers him from them all.” Psalm 34:19

The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish.” Psalm 25:17

For troubles without number surround me;” Psalm 40:12a

Troubles also pop up in the New Testament “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33b

What’s the answer?

Well, I know it’s not holding my breath and waiting for everything to be fine.

I couldn’t possibly wait until things are fine to experience joy. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:4 to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” So nice, Paul tells us twice!

It’s possible for Jesus followers to find joy that is not dependant on circumstances. Joy is a choice. Joy is a fruit of the spirit. Joy appears in unexpectedly simple packages: a song, a dance, a child, a bird, a kindness, a joke, a stupid movie, a friend.

God gave us laughter as a gift and it’s waiting for us around every corner.

I remember a time when my kids were young and I decided to get “back into shape.” One Sunday afternoon I headed to the Y and jumped onto a workout bike. As I exercised, I noticed that several men were looking in my direction.

“Wow.” I thought humbly. “Maybe I don’t look as bad as I thought. Perhaps I’m being hard on myself.” I began to pump harder and yet maintained a nonchalant expression since I am, after all, a married woman. Another glance up, however, thrilled me with the knowledge that I had the attention of most of the men in the room. I pushed that bike to Tour de France pace.

Suddenly, the men in the room let out a unified cheer. “Wait a minute.” I thought. “What’s going on?” I looked at them all and realized they were not looking directly at me but slightly over my head. I glanced up to discover that I had chosen to work out under the only TV playing the Patriot’s game that afternoon.

See, laugh. It’s OK. I did.

I remember another time when I was touring a huge furniture consignment shop with my mother and my aunt somewhere in South County. We were greeted enthusiastically by a very large man with one arm who gave me a giant, sloppy hug. I endured the hug assuming he was one of the countless distant relations we encountered all the time whenever we ventured out but after hugging me, he moved on and went about his business. I turned to my mother and aunt who were standing with raised eyebrows. “Who was that?” They asked. “What do you mean, who was that? Isn’t he some distant cousin or uncle once removed?” They shook their heads. “We’ve never seen that man before in our lives.”

See, laugh. Go ahead.

I am loved. I love others. I know Jesus. He made some very comical creatures, I know, I’m one of them. So are you. I laugh at things you do all the time but I’ll only tell stories about me on this blog (I’m saving the ones about you for the book where I make the big bucks!) 🙂

When life is like a game of Whack-A-Mole, we’ve just go to pull out our giant rubber mallet and keep whacking.

But God gave us another tool for survival – joy. Don’t wait for it. Look for it. Choose it. Pursue it. Engage it.

Rejoice. Rejoice in the Lord, always, again I say, rejoice.

If you don’t know the Lord, find Him first.

If you do know the Lord, find joy in today. It’s there. I promise. It could be worse. You could be the mole.

Dance with the Fat Girl


Celebrated it yesterday with great fanfare and fireworks.

Having been born in America in the sixties, I’ve known nothing but.

Having been born, again, in the sixties, I also know the complete freedom that comes through knowing Jesus Christ.

If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

Some of my brothers and sisters in the church, though, seem to only know a partial freedom in Christ. They know the “freedom from” –

Freedom from hell, freedom from eternal damnation, freedom from sin, freedom from spiritual oppression, freedom from fallen self.

Knowing “freedom from” is essential, powerful and necessary but it isn’t the whole gospel.

When Jesus sets us free, we are not only free “from”, we are also “free to”-

Free to love those who are unlovable, free to forgive, free to take risks to help build the kingdom of Christ, free to live as though our actions have eternal consequence, free to put others’ needs before our own.

“Free to” is a vital freedom for believers to exercise.

I used to explain it to my high schoolers this way:

“You don’t do drugs, have sex or drink. That’s commendable. It’s good to be free from these forbidden indulgences when you are in high school but that’s not your entire calling in Christ. You are also “free to”.

“Free to –what?” They would ask.

“Free to take risks. Free to reach out to those who are unloved around you. Look around your high school at those who are marginalized, excluded, ridiculed and alone. Jesus has set you free to befriend them. You are free to dance with the fat girls.”

That’s radical faith. Ask the fat girl to dance. Include the boy with acne in your crowd. Invite the socially awkward co-worker out for lunch. Offer to have tea with your elderly neighbor and listen to her stories – again.

I’ve known Christians who exercised their “freedom to” by welcoming a homeless family into their home, taking in unwanted children with severe disabilities, leaving everyone they knew to live in Africa and write down an unwritten language, inviting all their friends into their home for a party and a message about Jesus, leaving a high-paying job to serve among the needy or risking their personal safety to run children’s Bible studies in dangerous neighborhoods.

These brothers and sisters taught me that the freedom of Christ is more than freedom “from”; it is also freedom “to”.

Just like our American legal freedom, our spiritual freedom was hard won in a battle to the death. Blood was shed for this freedom. This freedom came at the ultimate price and is offered to us as a gift.

And now I ask you – as I ask myself:

What are you doing with your freedom?

Now that you are freed “from”

What is it that YOU are freed “to”?

Today, celebrate your freedom by exercising it.